Estrogen May Drive Nicotine Addiction in Women

Estrogen may explain why women become addicted to nicotine more quickly and with less nicotine exposure, according to a new study.

About 23.6 million Americans have a nicotine addiction. Although men use tobacco products at higher rates than women, studies have shown that women have a higher propensity to develop nicotine addiction and are less successful at quitting. Now, scientists may have an explanation for this discrepancy.

A new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology found that the sex hormone estrogen induces the expression of olfactomedins, proteins that are suppressed by nicotine in key areas of the brain involved in reward and addiction.

“If we can confirm that estrogen drives nicotine seeking and consumption through olfactomedins, we can design drugs that might block that effect by targeting the altered pathways. These drugs would hopefully make it easier for women to quit nicotine,” Sally Pauss, a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine who led the research, said in a statement.

Using large sequencing datasets of estrogen-induced genes, the researchers identified genes expressed in the brain and exhibiting a hormone function. Only one class of genes — those coding for olfactomedins — met these criteria.

The researchers then used human uterine cells and rats to examine interactions between olfactomedins, estrogen, and nicotine.

The results suggest that estrogen activation of olfactomedins — which is suppressed when nicotine is present — activates areas of the brain’s reward circuitry, serving as a feedback loop for driving nicotine addiction processes.

Researchers say therapies targeting estrogen–nicotine–olfactomedin interactions could help control nicotine use. The findings could also benefit people taking oral contraceptives that contain estrogen or undergoing hormone replacement therapy, putting them at an increased risk of developing a nicotine use disorder.

Nicotine users are at risk for cancer

About half of regular tobacco users try to quit smoking each year, yet only about 6% of them succeed. For many, multiple attempts are needed to quit smoking permanently.

Cigarette smoking damages nearly every organ in the body. Although nicotine itself is not carcinogenic, at least 69 chemicals in tobacco smoke can cause cancer.

Smoking may account for 80-90% of all lung cancer cases and is also associated with cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, cervix, kidney, and bladder, as well as acute myeloid.

Smoking can cause lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema and significantly increases the risk of heart disease, including stroke and heart attack.

As smoking contributes to cardiovascular disease, it raises the risk of erectile dysfunction. Research shows that nicotine can reduce sexual arousal even in men who are not regular smokers.

While smoking may provide a temporary feeling of relaxation and well-being, it poses long-term health risks. The new findings on estrogen’s role in nicotine addiction may pave the way for future therapies to treat nicotine addiction.

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