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Arzneimittelforschung. 2003;53(1):1-11.

Smoking, estradiol metabolism and hormone replacement therapy.

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Section of Endocrinology and Menopause, Women's University Hospital, Tübingen, Germany.


Products for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the postmenopause are the second most frequently prescribed drugs in the USA. Among the women receiving this treatment many are smokers. In the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), one of the largest interventional studies on HRT to date and which recently had to be discontinued, 50% of the 8,500 women on HRT had smoked before or continued to smoke during the study. Remarkably, there is little knowledge about the impact smoking has on the efficacy and side effects of HRT. However, it has been proven that, depending on the type, duration and intensity of nicotine consumption, smoking can reduce or completely cancel the efficacy of orally administered estrogens. Not only does smoking diminish the otherwise well-established beneficial effects of estrogen on hot flashes and urogenital symptoms and its positive effects on lipid metabolism, i.e. by reducing cholesterol, but smoking also specifically reduces estrogen's ability to prevent osteoporosis. The reduction or loss of therapeutic efficacy is mainly caused by dose-dependently elevated hepatic clearance, partially in conjunction with lower estrogen levels, and has been demonstrated only with oral estrogen applications. This failure of therapeutic action should not be compensated for by increasing the dose in smokers as this might result in the production of toxic, even potentially mutagenic estrogen metabolites-compounds recently associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. The favorable effects of estrogens are not lost in smokers when they are applied transdermally. This route enables low dosage and also avoids the formation of unphysiological metabolites by bypassing the liver. Women who continue to smoke despite all warnings should therefore only be treated via the transdermal route. Oral contraceptives, but not HRT, are contraindicated in elderly smokers. However, the principal conclusion of the WHI study was that the lowest dose possible should be chosen, especially in patients with an increased cardiovascular risk, as is the case in smokers.

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