Certain songs play over and over again in our minds…One that haunts me was written by Charles Fox and sung by Roberta Flack; “Killing Me Softly with His Song”. I was humming it while reading an article in the journal Menopause. (Please don’t laugh.) The article was a met- analysis of studies that measured the mean difference in age of natural menopause between smokers and nonsmokers. Menopause occurred 1.12 years earlier in smokers than nonsmokers, and that difference was significant. Hence the heading for my article this week.
Menopause is defined as a permanent cessation of periods for 12 months. And if wis use this 12 month definition, the only way to date menopause is to do so retrospectively. Before our ovaries run out of the follicles that produce the estrogen and progesterone needed to instigate our periods, they “sputter”. The follicles that have not been used up during our teens through our mid forties are the rejects and they simply do not put out (hormonally) as they should. This period of approaching follicular extinction is termed the menopausal transition. On average it begins at age 47 and lasts 4 years. During this transition, even though periods may come and go, symptoms such as hot flashes, sleep disturbances, vaginal dryness and pain with intercourse can occur.
There are more than 3000 chemicals inhaled in cigarette smoke. Many of them are detrimental to the health and well being of the follicles and can contribute to their early demise. The concerns about early menopause do not solely relate to symptoms. Early menopause increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, venus thrombosis (clots) and osteoporosis. Overall it increases the risk of mortality by approximately 2% per year. And to add insult to smoke injury, the combination of earlier loss of estrogen and current smoking further increases a woman’s risk of cardiovascular disease and death!
For this and so many other reasons, quitting smoking is the best thing a smoker can do for her health. Now would putting a picture of ovaries with a big red X over them help to convince women to stop smoking? I’m not sure … But it can’t hurt to add this to all the other warnings.