We’ve been told for several years now about the dangers and health risks associated with smoking, but only recently has tobacco use been linked as a cause of early menopause in women. Scientists have conducted research at the University of Pennsylvania that show evidence that supports this hypothesis. In addition to this, some women are more susceptible because of certain genetic risk factors.
Who is at risk for early menopause as a result from smoking?
Studies have shown that smoking increases the risk of entering early menopause an average of 1-2 years earlier in the general population as a whole. This was established in earlier studies that did not cover the uniqueness of certain groups, nor gene variants that do present interesting differences in the results.
White women who smoke, when compared with other groups who smoke, have the highest risk of experiencing early menopause. This is due to gene variants. Black women with the same gene variants have not been found to have been at the same level of increased risk as the group of white women. This is believed to be due to the way that smoking interacts with genes in different groups. While black women face the risk of facing menopause just a few years earlier, white women may begin premature menopause up to 9 years earlier.
What genetic factors make them more at risk?
The genetic variants that place women who smoke into a higher risk category does not pose as great of a risk in women with the same gene variations who do not smoke. This makes smoking the leading factor in risk, even over genetics. When smoking is combined with a gene called 1BCYP1B1*3, in white women, their risk factor increases phenomenally. This was found also, but to a lesser degree with the gene known as CYP3A4*.
What are the potential complications that can arise from early menopause?
Any woman who begins the process of menopause before the age of 50 is considered to be in premature menopause. While all women face certain risks from menopause, the earlier in life that this occurs, the greater the risks. The decreased levels of estrogen during menopause cause changes in the body that result in an upset in the regular functions of the system. Cells that depend upon estrogen for elasticity and faster regeneration become more disadvantaged. Muscles and tissues can become weaker and more fragile, and more susceptible to disease. Bone mass decreases and the risk of osteoporosis increases. In addition to this, cardiovascular disease, endometrial cancers, breast cancer, urinary tract problems and the possibility of diabetes become higher. Smoking further weakens the immune system and causes damage to cells, increasing the risk factors.
What can be done to reduce the risks of developing complications of early menopause?
Cessation or limiting of smoking is highly recommended as the heavier the habit, the more the risks. Women who receive hormone replacement therapy to reduce the symptoms of early menopause may lower their risks of developing osteoporosis, but does pose higher risks for cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer. By replacing low estrogen levels, some benefits are achieved as tissues receive the necessary chemistry to help them maintain elasticity and overall better health. Further research is needed to better assess the long term effects of estrogen replacement therapies in women who do experience premature menopause. It is believed that they are currently at a higher risk of earlier mortality when compared with women who achieve natural menopause.
The risks from smoking are very real, and more is being discovered through scientific research constantly. This is why continued research is needed. By having accurate information on risks, it becomes clearer on how they may be decreased. While all women who smoke tobacco products are increasing the likelihood of experiencing premature menopause, white women with certain genetic variants are believed to be at the greatest risk for beginning menopause up to 9 years earlier than normal This in turn, puts them at a greater risk for developing life threatening health conditions at an earlier age. Women with the genetic factors that would otherwise put them at greatest risk, but who do not smoke fall back into a greatly reduced risk factor category. This in itself indicated that the leading factor in premature menopause is the combination of smoking in genetically predisposed women.