Sex Hormones from Smoking can Increase Risk of Disease

November 12, 2012

Sex Hormones from Smoking can Increase Risk of Disease

A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism has identified that older women have increased levels of sex hormones if they are smokers. The researchers believe that their findings clarify what happens to the body when the person is smoking and how it influences the amount of risk of someone developing disease.

Researcher Judith Brand, MSc, of the Netherlands’ University Medical Center Utrecht says that, “Apart from the known toxic and carcinogenic effects of cigarettes, smoking appears to also influence the risk for chronic disease by changing hormone levels”. For a long time now smoking has been known as a major factor of risk for developing chronic diseases. But raised levels of estrogen and testosterone also add to the risk.

These higher levels of the female and male sex hormones are believed to increase the risk of breast cancer and diabetes as well as some other diseases in older women. Until now the effects of elevated levels of estrogen and testosterone on the body has been uncertain.

Studying Hormonal Issues

The format of the study, which involved 2,030 postmenopausal women aged from 55 years to 81 years, was to identify smokers, ex smokers and non smokers. Each individual’s group was noted and a blood sample taken and analyzed for sex hormone levels. It was found that those who were smokers had the highest levels of testosterone and estrogen, much higher than ex smokers or non smokers.

One finding that has not been seen in earlier studies was that smokers had higher estrogen levels than non smokers. The finding of higher testosterone levels had previously been observed, according to the researchers. They go on to say that earlier studies actually observed a decrease in estrogen levels.

The women who were the heaviest smokers produced the highest levels of sex hormones too. And it was further identified that any women who had stopped smoking about one year earlier had the same levels as non smokers.

Because obese and overweight women tend to have elevated levels of estrogen and testosterone the researchers took into account bodyweight when conducting the survey. They add that the benefits of stopping smoking are well known and the risk of developing cancer, heart disease and respiratory conditions for smokers is higher than for non smokers. But they add that there may be additional benefits to stopping by cutting the risk of developing hormone related conditions too.

The Risks of Smoking are Well Established

The findings may be interesting according to endocrinologist Stuart Weinerman, MD, but he is still not persuaded that smoking actually raises estrogen levels. He says that because the study can only find an association no conclusions can be drawn. Weinerman should know what he’s talking about as he is chief of the division of endocrinology at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

He also goes on to say that any important findings from this study are very unlikely because the risk of smoking to health is so great. Varying hormone levels is not significant compared to other smoking related problems. He uses the analogy “If smoking is the 800-pound gorilla, then smoking-related hormone increases are more like a tiny flea.”

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