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Smoke, Early Menopause And Fertility

Women who smoke and those who have been exposed to second hand smoke have more problems getting pregnant and are more likely to reach menopause at an earlier age than women who never smoked or those who were exposed to the least amount of second hand smoke. A new investigation from Roswell Park Cancer Institute reached these conclusions after researchers analyzed data on nearly 89,000 women in the U.S. Women who reported smoking were 14 percent more likely to have infertility (meaning that they were unable to get pregnant for a year) and 26 percent more likely to reach menopause earlier than women who didn’t smoke. Those exposed to the most second hand smoke had an 18 percent increased risk of infertility and reached menopause at an earlier age than women exposed to the least amount of second hand smoke. The analysis didn’t prove that exposure to smoke was responsible for infertility or earlier menopause, although the researchers adjusted the data to account for other factors that could lead to infertility or early menopause.

My take? As lead researcher Andrew Hyland, Ph.D. acknowledged, earlier investigations have linked smoking to reproductive problems in women, but few looked at associations between second hand smoke, infertility and early menopause. But these are not the only smoke-related risks women face. Some studies have suggested that teenage girls who smoke are at increased risk of developing breast cancer before menopause, and by age 50 women who began smoking as teens had a risk of breast cancer that was 80 percent higher than others who chose not to smoke so early in life. In addition, women with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer may increase their own risks of developing these cancers if they smoke. In addition, women smokers are 1.5 times more likely to develop lung cancer than men. If you’re a female smoker, these unique risks to women are all compelling reasons to make a New Year’s resolution to quit now.

Female Fertility: The Stress Factor

When pregnancy just isn’t happening, the problem could be a stressed-out prospective mother. A new study from Ohio State found that an enzyme that signals stress shows up more often in the saliva of women who fail to conceive after 12 months of trying than in women who have less trouble getting pregnant. The researchers followed 500 American women age 18 to 40 who had no known fertility problems when they began trying to conceive. The women were followed for 12 months or until they became pregnant. Researchers took saliva samples when the study began and again in the morning after the first day of the women’s first menstrual period after joining the study. Those who had higher levels of alpha-amylase were 29 percent less likely to conceive each month and twice as likely not to conceive after trying for a year. An earlier study in the U.K. concluded with the same results. The Ohio State researchers noted that stress is not the only or the most important impediment to pregnancy, but suggested that women who are having trouble getting pregnant consider stress-management techniques including yoga, meditation and mindfulness.

C.D. Lynch et al, “Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study—the LIFE study,” Human Reproduction, doi: 10.1093/humrep/deu032

Chemicals Endanger Male Fertility

Phthalates, chemicals used to make plastics flexible and lotions spreadable, are now found in everything from packaging, textiles, and detergents, to time-release capsules, and may contribute to male infertility. A study published online on February 14 in Fertility & Sterility found that women who use cosmetics often have higher levels of phthalates in their bodies, but concluded that the chemicals are a contributor to infertility only in men. Researchers from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NCHHD) followed 501 couples trying to conceive, and investigated the association between phthalate exposure and infertility. Earlier research has suggested that the chemicals can interfere with the workings of testosterone and other hormones, leading to changes in testicular development, sperm quality and to malformations of the male reproductive system. Fortunately, it is easy to lower phthalates levels quickly: avoid personal care products listing phthalates on their labels, don’t use plastic food containers for heating food and drink, and drink from a glass, not a plastic bottle. A reduction in phthalate levels can often be measured in urine samples within a few days after making these changes.

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Germaine Buck Louis et al, “Urinary bisphenol A, phthalates, and couple fecundity: the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study,” Fertility and Sterility, DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2014.01.022