WOMEN looking to give up smoking may need to consider the potential impact of their menstrual cycle on their ability to resist nicotine craving.
Differences in the brain activity of nicotine craving between men and women, and the variation of this activity across the menstrual cycle in women, were the primary objectives of a study led by Dr Adrianna Mendrek, researcher, Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec, Canada. The study aimed to build on established evidence of sex differences in smoking, such as how women become dependent on cigarettes more quickly after they begin smoking, and how they find it more difficult to give up.
15 men and 19 women, who regularly smoked more than 15 cigarettes per day, were enrolled in the study and had functional magnetic resonance imaging scans taken of their brains while they looked at neutral and smoking-related images known to induce craving. The procedure was carried out twice in the women at two different points in their menstrual cycle, firstly, in the early follicular phase, and secondly in the mid-luteal phase; their oestrogen and progesterone levels were also assessed.
No significant differences were seen in brain activity associated with cigarette craving between men and women. However, the scans illustrated a fluctuation in craving-related brain activity trends throughout the menstrual cycle in the women. Sections of the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobe were highly active in the follicular phase, whereas only sections of the right hippocampus were active in the luteal phase.
Dr Mendrek concluded that women would probably find it easier to overcome cigarette craving in the 2 weeks leading up to their next period, due to elevated levels of oestrogen and progesterone. “Our data reveal that incontrollable urges to smoke are stronger at the beginning of the follicular phase that begins after menstruation. Hormonal decreases of oestrogen and progesterone possibly deepen the withdrawal syndrome and increase activity of neural circuits associated with craving,” said Dr Mendrek.
However, she highlighted stress, anxiety, and depression as having a greater influence in cravings, adding that individualised addiction treatment would benefit from a stronger understanding of the underlying neurobiological mechanisms.
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