Smoking wreaks havoc on practically every system in the body, and the menstrual cycle is no exception. Smoking can impact your menstrual cycle in several ways, from causing heavier bleeds and more painful symptoms to disrupting your cycle or eliminating your periods altogether.
Quitting smoking can also change your periods — but for the better. When you quit smoking, many of your bodily processes, including your menstrual cycle, begin to function healthily and normally again.
Interestingly, the specific point at which you quit during your cycle might just be the key to sustained abstinence from smoking.
In this guide, we look at how smoking and quitting smoking can affect your period. We also explain how the different phases of your menstrual cycle can affect your ability to quit successfully.
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Does Smoking Make Your Period Heavier or More Painful?
Smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products can make your period heavier and more painful.
According to a study by Reuters, women who smoked or had a history of smoking experienced more heavy and painful periods than those who didn’t.
Compared to non-smokers, smokers were more likely to suffer from severe menstrual pain, the intensity of which increased as the number of cigarettes smoked per day increased.
The researchers posited that this intensified pain might be because smoking causes the blood vessels to restrict and lowers the amount of oxygen in the uterus.
Women who started smoking at a younger age fared worse when it came to pain and how much they bled. Women who began smoking before the age of 15 were 50% more likely to experience chronic period pain and heavy bleeding.
A 2020 analysis of 13 different studies involving more than 25,000 participants also confirmed that smoking could exacerbate period pain and symptoms.
The study reported that nicotine made women 1.5x more likely to experience worse premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms in the days before their period, including sleep interruptions, cramps, depression, and irritability.
It also found that for women who suffered from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), smoking made symptoms even more intense with, PMDD sufferers 3x more likely to have worse symptoms.
Can Smoking Cause Irregular Periods?
Smoking can cause irregular periods, as cigarette consumption can cause shorter cycles.
Research has shown that heavy smoking — that is, smoking more than 20 cigarettes per day — was associated with a 4x increased risk of a shorter cycle that lasted less than 25 days compared to not smoking.
Can Smoking Stop Your Period?
There is no conclusive research to suggest that smoking itself can stop your period, but smoking can cause weight loss, which in turn can stop your period.
Smoking promotes weight loss in a few ways.
Firstly, the nicotine content in cigarettes speeds up your metabolism. Nicotine causes the heart to beat faster, and this increased metabolic rate prompts the body to burn calories quicker.
Secondly, smoking reduces caloric intake because of its impact on the hormone called ghrelin, which is the hormone responsible for our body’s hunger cues. This causes your body to send you fewer hunger cues, which means you consume fewer calories, and therefore lose weight.
Finally, nicotine binds to the α3β4 receptor in the body, which is the receptor that promotes satiety (the feeling of fullness). This binding causes you to feel fuller quicker, and therefore consume fewer calories.
Of course, it’s important to note that this weight loss is not regarded as healthy weight loss. Weight loss caused by smoking is a sign that your body is not functioning properly.
We need at least 22% body fat to menstruate regularly. Being underweight can alter your menstrual cycle because of the interaction between your ovaries and the brain.
Research shows that significant weight loss or being underweight interferes with the body’s hormone levels, leading to missed periods.
Changes in our hormone levels cause ovulation and menstrual bleeding. Anything that interferes with these hormones can stop the body from ovulating, and when you don’t ovulate, you don’t get a proper period.
Therefore, if smoking causes you to lose significant amounts of weight, or tips your weight below a healthy body fat percentage, it can also cause your periods to stop.
Can Quitting Smoking Affect Your Period?
We know how smoking can affect your period, but how can quitting impact your menstrual cycle?
Once you quit smoking, your body begins to heal itself.
While some of the impacts of smoking cannot be reversed, many of your organs will begin to repair the damage caused by smoking. Your bodily systems will also begin functioning again.
This includes your menstrual cycle.
Can Quitting Smoking Delay Your Period?
Smoking can delay your period, but can quitting smoking make your period late?
There is no evidence to support that quitting smoking can cause a delayed period.
The good news is that if you have lost significant amounts of weight while smoking when you quit, your metabolism returns to normal and your hunger hormones and receptors are no longer interfered with by nicotine.
These changes often lead to weight gain, which can help to bring your period back. The average amount of weight gained after quitting is 5kg over a 5-year period, though most of the weight gain occurs in the first few months after quitting, then stabilises.
It’s important to remember that this weight gain is actually a good thing; it’s a sign that your body is functioning properly again.
After all, regular periods between puberty and menopause signal that your body is working normally. The return of your period is in itself evidence that your body is returning to health and recovering from the effects of smoking.
If you do experience late periods after quitting smoking, discuss this with your GP. They will be able to assess whether this may be a temporary side effect of quitting, or whether something else is going on.
Heavy Period After Quitting Smoking
Quitting smoking shouldn’t cause a heavy period.
In fact, experts agree that quitting smoking can alleviate period pain. When you quit smoking, your hormones are no longer impacted by nicotine.
Additionally, your blood vessels are no longer restricted, and the blood and oxygen flow to the uterus improves.
If you are experiencing heavier bleeds after quitting, check in with your GP.
When Should I Quit Smoking in My Cycle?
Interestingly, the phase of your menstrual cycle in which you quit smoking can impact your success in curbing the habit.
Research has proven that your menstrual cycle can affect your nicotine cravings, and you can take advantage of this to increase your chances of quitting successfully.
Studies suggest that women who quit in the first half of their menstrual cycle (the time between the start of their period and ovulation) are more likely to engage in addictive behaviours, such as smoking.
It is believed that the hormone estradiol (a type of estrogen), which promotes addictive behaviours, is higher in the first half of the cycle.
Conversely, in the second half of the menstrual cycle, the progesterone hormone is higher, which is thought to protect against relapse.
Another study followed 34 smokers; 19 women and 15 men. Researchers used functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans to deduce whether any changes in the brain that are associated with nicotine withdrawal fluctuated in response to hormone level changes.
The scan observed certain parts of the brain that help to control addictive behaviour. The results found that the brain structures responsible for nicotine cravings were in fact more active in menstruating women.
Researchers found that during the first half of the menstrual cycle — known as the follicular phase — there was less activity in the rewards centre and brain regions that promote good decision making.
The same brain regions were found to be more active during the second half of the menstrual cycle, during ovulation. At this point, the brain was more likely to support control over smoking-related urges and behaviour. ovulation can actually decrease the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
Physical nicotine withdrawal symptoms typically last for a week, so it is recommended that women quit two weeks before their next expected period to take advantage of these hormonal changes.
Quitting Smoking and Periods: Getting Things Back on Track
Smoking can negatively affect your menstrual cycle in several ways. It may intensify symptoms of PMS and PMDD, as well as cause irregular periods.
Conversely, smoking may cause you to lose significant amounts of weight which can eliminate your periods altogether.
Quitting smoking, on the other hand, can positively affect your period. When you quit, your body begins to repair itself, and your bodily systems begin to function normally again.
Post-quitting weight gain may help to bring back your period, and the improved flow of blood and oxygen to the uterus may reduce pain.
It has been proven that quitting during the second half of your cycle when you are ovulating can actually help to prevent relapse, as the hormone that promotes addictive behaviours is lower than during the first half of your cycle.
If you’re planning to quit, time your quit date two weeks before your next expected period to make the most of these hormonal changes.
If you are struggling to quit or have experienced changes in your menstrual cycle while smoking or quitting, get in touch with a GP to discuss your symptoms. They will be able to determine why these changes are occurring and suggest treatment options.
You can book a cost-free, bulk-billed telehealth consultation with a specialist-trained GP to discuss these concerns.