It is that time again. The time for making New Year’s resolutions. For many people, a popular resolution is to finally quit smoking. And as it turns out, throwing out that pack of Style cigarettes may be good for your sex life as well as your lungs. Several studies have found a link between smoking and difficulties achieving an erection. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor. That means it tightens blood vessels and restricts blood flow.
Smokers - especially female smokers - are at much greater risk for bleeding in the lining of the brain, known as subarachnoid hemorrhage, than non-smokers. This is the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Stroke.
Female Smokers More Likely to Kick the Habit by 'Timing' their Quit Date with their Menstrual Cycle
Women who want to quit smoking may have better success by carefully
timing their quit date with optimal days within their menstrual cycle,
according to a new study from researchers at the Perelman School of
Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The results, published
online in Biology of Sex Differences, were also presented at the annual meeting of the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences (OSSD), held at Penn.
Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in
the United States, and women experience more severe health consequences
from cigarette smoking than men, including a 25 percent increased risk
of developing coronary heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease. Research also shows that women have greater difficulty with
smoking cessation than men.
“Understanding how menstrual cycle phase affects neural processes,
cognition and behavior is a critical step in developing more effective
treatments and in selecting the best, most individualized treatment
options to help each cigarette smoker quit,” said the study’s lead
author, Reagan Wetherill, PhD, a research assistant professor of
Wetherill and senior author Teresa Franklin, PhD, a research
associate professor of Neuroscience in Psychiatry, have been studying
the brains of premenopausal women who smoke cigarettes for several
years in Penn’s Center for the Studies of Addiction. Their work is
based on a significant animal literature showing that the natural sex
hormones – estrogen and progesterone – which fluctuate over the course
of the menstrual cycle modulate addictive behavior. The animal data
show that during the pre-ovulatory, or follicular phase of the
menstrual cycle, when the progesterone-to-estrogen ratio is low, women
are more likely to be spurred toward addictive behaviors.
Alternatively, during the early pre-menstrual or luteal phase of the
menstrual cycle, when the progesterone-to-estrogen ratio is high,
addictive behaviors are thwarted, suggesting that progesterone might
protect women from relapsing to smoking.
In the current study, 38 physically healthy, premenopausal women
who smoke and who were not taking hormonal contraceptives, ranging from
21 to 51 years of age, received a functional MRI scan to examine how
regions of the brain that help control behavior are functionally
connected to regions of the brain that signal reward.
The researchers theorized that the natural fluctuations in ovarian
hormones that occur over the course of the monthly menstrual cycle
affect how women make decisions regarding reward – smoking a cigarette
– and so-called “smoking cues,” which are the people, places and
things that they associate with smoking, such as the smell of a lit
cigarette or going on their coffee break. These “appetitive reminders”
to smoke are perceived as pleasant and wanted, and similar to
cigarettes, are also rewarding.
In 2015, the researchers showed
that compared to when women are in the luteal phase of their menstrual
cycle, which is the period of time following ovulation and prior to
menstruation, women in the follicular phase – which begins at menstruation and continues until ovulation – have enhanced responses to
smoking cues in reward-related brain regions. This finding led them to
further test whether groups differed in the strength of the functional
connections that exists between regions exerting cognitive control and
reward-related brain regions. The weaker the functional connections
between cognitive control brain regions and reward signaling brain
regions, the less ability women have to ‘Just Say No’ when attempting
The women in the study were separated into two groups – those in
their follicular phase and those in their luteal phase. Results
revealed that during the follicular phase, there was reduced functional
connectivity between brain regions that helps make good decisions
(cortical control regions) and the brain regions that contain the
reward center (ventral striatum), which could place women in the
follicular phase at greater risk for continued smoking and relapse.
Orienting attention towards smoking cues (pictures of smoking reminders
such as an individual smoking) was also shown to be associated weaker connections between cognitive control regions in follicular females.
“These data support existing animal data and an emerging human
literature showing that progesterone may exert protective effects over
addictive behavior and importantly, the findings provide new insights
into sex differences in smoking behavior and relapse,” Franklin said.
“Interestingly, the findings may represent a fundamental effect of
menstrual cycle phase on brain connectivity and may be generalizable to
other behaviors, such as responses to other rewarding substances
(i.e., alcohol and foods high in fat and sugar).
“The results from this study become extremely important as we look
for more ways to help the over 40 million individuals in the U.S. alone
addicted to cigarettes,” Franklin, continued. “When we learn that
something as simple as timing a quit date may impact a woman’s
cessation success, it helps us to provide more individualized treatment
strategies for individuals who are struggling with addiction.”