Women encouraged to maintain weight and quit smoking to reduce menopausal symptoms

11 November 2019

Maintaining normal weight and quitting smoking before the age of 40 may significantly prevent symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats in menopausal women, known as vasomotor symptoms (VMS).

Researchers from The University of Queensland analysed data from eight studies on more than 21,000 women - aged about 50 - from Australia, the UK, USA and Japan.

UQ School of Public Health’s Dr Hsin-Fang Chung found women who were overweight or obese and smoked were more likely to experience frequent or severe VMS during menopause.

“Obese women have a nearly 60 per cent higher risk of experiencing frequent or severe VMS, compared to normal weight women,” Dr Chung said.

“Women who smoke have more than an 80 per cent higher risk of experiencing frequent or severe VMS, compared to women who have never smoked.”

The data was provided by an international collaboration examining women’s reproductive health and chronic disease across the life course, known as InterLACE.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines women who have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher as overweight, and 30 or higher as being obese.

Dr Chung said the role of smoking played a significant part in the findings.

“Smoking intensifies the effect of obesity and gives obese women who smoke more than three times the risk of experiencing frequent or severe VMS, compared with women of normal weight who have never smoked.”

InterLACE project leader Professor Gita Mishra said that determining modifiable lifestyle factors and identifying women with an increased risk of developing VMS during menopause was essential to develop preventive strategies to reduce the burden associated with the symptoms.

“The risk of experiencing frequent or severe VMS was particularly high for women who smoked more than 20 cigarettes per day or smoked for more than 30 years,” Professor Mishra said.

“This may be partly attributed to the anti-estrogenic effect of tobacco smoking.

“However, women who quit smoking before turning 40 have similar levels of risk to those who have never smoked.”

“These findings encourage mid-life women to engage in health promotion programs, and emphasise the need to quit smoking and adopt weight management strategies before menopause.”

“Waiting until the menopausal transition or post menopause is too late to achieve maximum benefit of these findings.”

The research is published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2019.10.103).

Media: Professor Gita Mishra, g.mishra@sph.uq.edu.au, +61 7 3346 5224; Dr Hsin-Fang Chung, h.chung1@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3346 4649; Faculty of Medicine Communications, med.media@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3365 5118, +61 436 368 746.