Yes - smoking may mean you have a younger natural menopause age than you would if you didn't smoke.
If you need more reasons to quit smoking, then yet another study has been published to help you (1). This study pooled all the results from 11 other studies to assess the relationship between smoking habits and age of natural menopause (this pooling technique is called a meta-analysis).
And no surprises: smoking was associated with almost a 50% increased likelihood of going through menopause before age 50. Or put another way, smoking women were likely to see their periods stop about one year before the non-smokers.
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Smoking and health
Like many studies that pool data from other studies, this meta-analysis was not without its potential flaws, as the researchers pointed out. For instance, of the 11 studies whose data was included in the data pooling exercise, many of them either didn't record how long women had smoked for, or didn't give a clear report of the menopause definitions they had used – or neither of these.
Why don't researchers do their studies properly we ask ourselves? This is a serious question about the quality of medical research. Problems with definitions, recording and interpretation means that it's often very difficult to come up with unequivocal answers to reasonable scientific questions. This leaves physicians and scientists with incomplete answers and the general public in a state of confusion.
But at least when it comes to smoking and health, it probably doesn't matter that much what the definitions were, because we all already know that smoking is the pits.
Whatever way you look at it:
Whether for the medium – long term arguments:
Smoking causes cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic lung disease – which means you're either left dead or paralysed or blue and gasping for breath with an oxygen cylinder for a best friend...
Or for the short term, today and tomorrow arguments:
You get breathless when you run, a harmless winter cold turns into a thick green sputum difficult to shift cough, your breath and clothes smell disgusting and you get wrinkles when you’re only in your twenties...
Or even for the money and global equality arguments:
Smoking costs you money, puts cash into the pockets of a few wealthy tobacco growers while depriving resource-poor countries of land for growing nutrient rich crops to sustain their own communities...
Smoking is just a rubbish habit.
So – yes, and now the evidence is weighing up that it may bring the menopause on earlier too. This seems reasonable, and the hypothesis that the tobacco interferes with oestrogen metabolism seems plausible. And maybe one day scientists will prove it for certain that tobacco lowers natural menopause age.
But there's really no point in waiting is there?
Sun L., et al. Meta-analysis suggests that smoking is associated with an increased risk of early natural menopause. Menopause 2012;19:126-32
Published February 2012