How To Not Turn Into The Bearded Lady: The Link Between Cigarettes, Obesity And High Testosterone In Women
We’ve all heard of the bearded lady and women with beards have been around for much of recorded human history, but have you ever wondered how these lasses got that way?
What causes facial hair in women?
The answer has to do with increases in levels of circulating androgens (i.e. male sex hormones like testosterone and androsterone). Androgens are the steroids responsible for controlling the development of masculine characteristics including aggression and facial hair. Androgen elevations such as high testosterone in women have been linked to heavier menstrual cycles, menstrual cramps (ouch), obesity, and increased risk for chronic illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes. They have also been shown to trigger aggression, excess hair growth, acne, uneven and oily skin, a deepening of the voice and temporal balding. High testosterone levels in women are thus at least one of the major culprits behind what causes facial hair in women and the bearded lady phenomenon.
How do androgens in women get elevated?
There are various reasons why androgens get elevated in women, however, in this post we will focus on the link between androgen elevation and cigarette smoking. Have you ever noticed that women who smoke a lot of cigarettes develop deep, masculine voices? Perhaps in comparing them to their non-smoking counterparts you’ve also found these lasses to be a bit more hairy, aggressive, promiscuous, oily, and prone to acne. The reason for this could be that cigarette smoking is associated with increases in levels of circulating androgens in women.
Cigarettes make women more manly.
In studies of women, cigarette smoking has been linked to infertility, menstrual disorders, and hormone-dependent cancers. Largely due to the hormonal imbalance between high levels of androgens and low levels of estrogens (female sex hormones), females who puff the not so magic dragon also tend to reach menopause at a younger age than women who don’t smoke and experience more hot flashes when they do. Research indicates that these relationships are all mitigated by cigarette smoking-induced elevations in androgen levels. Since sexual intercourse is one way by which to regulate hormonal levels and hormonal anomalies may make finding a sexual partner more difficult, it is possible that by elevating levels of androgens in women and consequently turning unsuspecting women into bearded ladies, cigarette smoking inhibits the body’s ability to self-regulate, thus perpetuating the cycle.
Suggesting a dose-response relationship (i.e. the more you use the greater the effects), the highest levels of androgens can be observed in women who smoke the most cigarettes. Studies show that even when compared to obese women, who as a result of androgen synthesis in adipose tissue (girl fat churns out man hormones), are known to exhibit elevated androgen levels, current female smokers still have the highest concentrations of testosterone, with decreasing values observed in former and nonsmokers.
In addition to more circulating testosterone, a pattern of increased abdominal obesity (i.e. belly fat) has also been observed in women who smoke. Studies have found that compared to their non-smoking counterparts, females who smoke cigarettes have a significantly higher waist-to-hip ratio (a.k.a. the spare tire syndrome), which is known to be regulated by sex hormones. Specifically, high testosterone in women inhibits fat cells from amassing in the hips while at the same time causing them to accumulate around the waist. As a result, females with heightened testosterone levels exhibit higher waist-to-hip ratios and are more likely to be abdominally obese. Obesity means more adipose tissue or fat in the body, which as we stated earlier is the site of male sex hormones synthesis in women. More fat means more androgens and more androgens means more fat, thus further perpetuating what appears to be a seemingly endless cycle of hormonal instability and female obesity.
On the contrary, estrogens in the female body are known to produce the opposite effect, leading to low waist-to-hip ratios by promoting greater fat accumulation in the hip area than the waist. Smoking associated changes in sex hormone levels are thus likely to affect fat distribution in the female body causing it to become concentrated in the belly area and in turn making the feminine form more tubular as opposed to pear-like. In accordance with these findings, studies have also shown women with a low waist-to-hip ratio to have higher levels of the female sex hormone estradiol and larger breasts. Higher levels of estradiol, larger breasts, and small waist-to-hip ratios in women are associated with more reproductive potential and greater sexual appeal. Therefore, women who smoke and consequently possess higher waist-to-hip ratios, smaller breasts, and lower levels of estradiol are both less sexually attractive and less likely to produce good offspring.
Cigarettes, Obesity, and High Testosterone Levels in Women with Beards
Based on the scientific evidence investigating links between cigarette smoking, androgens in women and women with facial hair, women who smoke cigarettes are very likely to develop aggressive traits, excess belly fat, facial hair, acne prone skin and, temporal balding. As a result of their diminished reproductive potential, women who smoke may, in turn, have a more difficult time procreating. Luckily, women who quit smoking and begin to adhere to healthy lifestyle changes can heal their bodies and regain healthy levels of female sex hormones.
So, while the occasional social cigarette is unlikely to morph a lass into the bearded lady, continuing the habit over time can definitely take its toll. The good news is that up to a certain point, the human body possesses an uncanny ability to repair itself, so unless they’ve wandered too far down the path of no return, most current smokers can begin to regulate their body and reverse much of the damage after just 1-2 years of smoking cessation.
PCOS & Other Hormonal Imbalances
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