Smoking remains number one risk factor of a wide collection of preventable diseases and the absolute winner among the most frequently used vices everywhere in the world. Modern lifestyle increased the number of women smokers exposing them to huge health risks since women tend to be more sensitive to hazardous effects of this bad habit than men. Women also have more difficulties when attempting to quit compared to men. To promote anti – smoking public health campaign and provide women with effective service and treatment when they decide to quit smoking, the group of scientists conducted the research exploring mechanisms and causes of addiction and their relation to natural hormonal changes in women.
The influence of hormonal fluctuations
Looking for the appropriate and effective ways to design individualized approach and treatment for women smokers, a team of researchers from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed the influence of hormonal fluctuations during the regular menstrual cycle in women on the intensity of their addiction and their chances to quit smoking and stick to the decision. The study was published in “Biology of sex differences” journal revealing quite interesting results. The study included 38 participants, healthy premenopausal women smokers ages 21 to 51. The condition was that neither one of them was currently using hormonal contraceptive therapy. All women were subjected to functional MRI scanning. The researchers were examining functional connections between cortical regions of the brain involved with behavior control and process of decision making and regions involved with the sense of reward.
Hormones affect women’s decisions
The mere process of smoking, as well as all so-called “appetitive reminders” – all things, places, rituals, even people that particular women associated with consuming cigarettes – were categorized as signals for triggering brain region involved with the sense of reward. The major assumption of the research was that natural fluctuation and changes in hormonal concentrations during menstrual cycle affect women’s affinity towards various vices and raise their risk of recidivism if trying to quit smoking. The hypothesis was that these hormonal influences affect how women react to awards and how they make decisions regarding these kinds of rewards.
Follicular phase – high risk for addictive behavior
The women were divided into a group of women who were in their follicular phase of the cycle at the moment and the second group of women who were in the luteal phase. Two groups showed different results suggesting that estrogen, which is dominant hormone in the follicular phase affected behavior differently than progesterone, which dominates during the luteal phase. These hormones affect neural processes and connection between cognitive regions of the brain and “reward” regions of the brain in a different manner. The conclusion of the research showed that follicular phase is the period of the month when women are at higher risk of succumbing to addictive behavior and using of tobacco. Opposed to that, progesterone appeared to be protecting women from relapsing in the case they tried to quit smoking.
This means that female smokers have a better chance of succeeding in quitting smoking if they “time” their decision according to the “progesterone” period in a month.