Passive smoking linked to infertility and earlier menopause

passive smokingWith the end of another year almost up, many of us will be thinking about our New Year’s Resolutions for 2016. Perhaps they could include losing weight, cutting down on alcohol, giving up chocolate…but the most common resolution is usually quitting smoking.

This is not such a bad thing though; smoking is linked to numerous forms of cancer, in addition to heart disease, stroke and many more serious health problems, and a new study has demonstrated that even passive (second-hand) smoking could be the cause of infertility and an earlier menopause in women.

Published online in the Dec. 15 edition of the journal Tobacco Control, the new study reports that women with exposure to high levels of tobacco – either smoking themselves or passively – could have a menopause that occurs 1 or 2 years earlier compared to those who have never smoked or have been exposed to passive smoking.

For the study, researchers assessed data on 79,690 women in the age range of 50 to 79 that had completed the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (WHI OS) – a large study began in 1991 to monitor the health of over 160,000 healthy, postmenopausal women.

All of the women had experienced a ‘natural’ menopause – meaning the woman had not had a period for 12 consecutive months and they had not had surgery to remove their ovaries.

Previous research has identified a connection between smoking and higher rates of infertility and earlier menopause. However, “second-hand smoke is less researched,” especially among never-smoking women, commented the study author Andrew Hyland, chair of health behaviour at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Researchers discovered that smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke were found to be associated with fertility problems and an earlier onset of menopause (i.e. prior to the typical age of 50).

Current or ex-smokers were found to be around 14% more likely to be infertile and 26% more likely to experience an earlier menopause in comparison to those that had never smoked. Hyland stressed that early menopause has been linked with a higher risk of death from all causes.

The study also found that for the never-smokers exposed to the highest levels of second-hand smoke – such as living with a smoker for a decade or more – they were an estimated 18% more likely to have fertility problems and early menopause.

Women who had previously smoked, reached the menopause on average about 22 months before the women that had neither smoked or been exposed to smoke. Moreover, it was found those exposed to the highest level of passive smoke reached menopause 13 months earlier than those not exposed.

This latest study is just one of many important reminders that we should avoid all smoke, said Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.

“This study provides additional motivation and incentive for women of all ages to avoid smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke, as well as to quit smoking,” she said. Both are associated with premature birth, low birth weight, infant death and certain birth defects, she added.

“This evidence, in addition to the data from the current study, offers health care providers, particularly ob-gyn practitioners, the information needed to counsel women about the hazards of smoking and second-hand smoke, and to encourage cessation,” Folan said.

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