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A recent study in Norway has revealed that smoking may be
much more damaging to women’s hearts than to men’s. As it turns out, women who smoke have heart
attacks an average of fourteen years earlier than non-smoking women. This is more than double the gap between male
smokers and non-smokers when it comes to heart attacks: men who smoke tend to
have heart attacks about six years before men who do not smoke.

The study, conducted by Morten Grundtvig and colleagues in Lillehamer,
Norway, was based on data from nearly 18,000 patients admitted to the hospital
for a first heart attack. It revealed
that on average, men who did not smoke had their first heart attack at 72,
while men who smoked had it at 64. The
differences were much more significant for women, with non-smoking women having
their first heart attack at 81, and smoking women having their first heart
attack at 66.

Doctors have suspected for many years that female hormones,
particularly estrogen, help protect women from heart disease. Estrogen is believed to raise good
cholesterol levels and soften blood-vessel walls, lowering the chances of developing
the blockages that cause heart attacks.

Grundtvig has posited that smoking might cause women to go
through menopause earlier, decreasing the levels of estrogen in their bodies
and opening them up to the threat of heart attack. As more and more women take up smoking around
the world, he predicts, the prevalence of heart disease in women will greatly
increase.

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