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Cigarette Smoking Increases Hormones, Disease Risk in Postmenopausal Women


Postmenopausal women who smoke cigarette tend to have elevated levels of testosterone and other hormones when compared with non-smoking women, according to a new study from researchers in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. High hormone levels place these women at risk for breast and endometrial cancer as well as type 2 diabetes.

Women who stop cigarette smoking cut their risk

The health risks associated with smoking have been much researched and established to include lung cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, gum disease, high blood pressure, fertility problems, and more. In this new study, investigators explored the relationship between smoking and sex hormone levels in postmenopausal women.

A total of 2,030 postmenopausal women (aged 55-81), none of whom were using hormone therapy, participated in the study. The women were grouped according to smoking status: current, former, and never.

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Women who were currently smoking had higher circulating levels of androgens (hormones that stimulate or control male characteristics; e.g., testosterone, free testosterone, androstenedione), 17-hydroxprogesterone, estradiol, and SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin; a protein that binds to testosterone and estradiol) than did “former” or “never” smokers. Women who were former smokers (quit within 1-2 years) and those who had never smoked had similar hormone levels.

These findings are important, according to Judith Brand, MSc, of University Medical Center Utrecht and the study’s lead author, as “the observed increase in sex hormone levels with cigarette use suggests that tobacco smoke, apart from its direct toxic and carcinogenic effects, may also influence chronic disease risk through hormonal mechanisms.”

Smokers who quit can expect to begin reaping the benefits of stopping almost immediately, including an improvement in blood pressure, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and reduced risk of smoking-related disease. Similarly, Brand noted that “the effect of cigarette smoking appears reversible, as an almost immediate reduction in sex hormone levels was seen in women who quit using cigarettes.”

For people who still smoke, and especially postmenopausal women, this study suggests there is yet another benefit to quitting. Brand noted that “our research suggests that smoking cessation may have additional effects by modifying hormone-related disease risks.” However, because this was not the focus of the current study, further research is needed.

Brand J et al. Cigarette smoking and endogenous sex hormones in postmenopausal women. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2011 Oct.