Nicotine is still the most widely used drug in the United States. Legal it may be, but smoking causes a shocking 480,000 deaths a year in the US alone and is also notoriously hard to quit. If you're a smoker, chances are that you've tried to give up at least once — unsuccessfully.
As increasing numbers of developed nations are introducing ever-more aggressive measures to encourage their citizens to stop smoking, help for smokers who would like to become ex-smokers is indeed becoming more advanced. Gone are the days in which quitting cold turkey or using nicotine replacement patches were your only options. You can now take medications to help you stop, receive cognitive behavioral therapy specifically aimed at quitting tobacco, and create a personal quit plan with the help of dedicated quitters' websites.
If you're planning on quitting, you will know that the process is likely to be tough regardless of the quit-method you choose. Research suggests that quitting smoking is even harder for women. Given that female smokers are also more likely than male smokers to suffer heart disease and COPD as a result, that seems rather unfair.
The ground-breaking research was just published in the journal Biology of Sex Differences. Could it help you, too?
What? What Does The Menstrual Cycle Have To Do With Smoking?
This latest study wasn't based on an entirely novel idea: animal research has already shown that estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that dominate during various points of the menstrual cycle, can influence addictive behavior. Previous research conducted by the same team from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania had also indicated that the reward centers of the brain respond more strongly to so-called smoking triggers during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle.
Thirty-eight nicotine-addicted women between the ages of 21 and 51 who weren't using hormonal contraceptives were recruited for this study. Brain scans were used to assess connections between these two crucial brain centers. Some women were in the follicular stage of their cycle, governed by estrogen, while others found themselves in the progesterone-dominated luteal phase.
Indeed, the research team found that connections between control and reward centers were weaker in those women who were in the first half of their menstrual cycle. Those women would, as a result, have a harder time saying no to a cigarette. Post-ovulatory women in the second half of their cycle were more able to bring impulse control into the addiction equation due to strengthened connections between the two brain areas.
Lead researcher Reagan Wetherill, PhD said:
"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."
Whether or not this study will help women quit smoking on a large scale remains to be seen. However, if you're a female smoker who is hoping to quit soon, it absolutely wouldn't hurt to utilize a seemingly strange tool, an ovulation test, to determine your ideal quit time.