Teenage girls are at far greater risk from passive smoking than boys of the same age, according to a new study.Researchers found that when teenage girls are exposed to second-hand smoke at home, they tend to have lower levels of the ‘good’ form of cholesterol that reduces heart disease risk.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) pick up excess cholesterol in the blood stream and take it to the liver where it can be broken down. Secondhand smoke, already known to have a multitude of negative health effects, may be worse for girls than it is for boys, according to a study published today in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Researchers at the University of Australia found that teenage girls exposed to secondhand smoke have lower levels of “good” HDL cholesterol than boys who were exposed. High levels of HDL cholesterol protect against heart disease — and another good reason for parents to quit smoking, experts said.
Secondhand smoke contains hundreds of toxic chemicals and is known to cause several different health problems — including coronary heart disease, lung cancer, asthma attacks and respiratory infections in children, and sudden infant death syndrome, according to the CDC. Previous research has established that secondhand smoke is also tied to low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), a particle that helps protect against heart disease. A study found that secondhand smoke decreases HDL in children, but the current research, by scientists at the University of Western Australia School of Medicine and Pharmacology, is the first to separate the effects of secondhand smoke by gender.
Unlike “bad” low-density cholesterol (LDL) that builds up in your arteries and leads to heart disease, HDL grabs excess cholesterol out of the bloodstream and transports it to be broken down in the liver. Low HDL has been associated with high risk for cardiovascular disease in adults. Since cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women, the researchers were interested in examining potential gender differences in the health risks associated with second hand smoke.
“In our study, we found 17-year-old girls raised in households where passive smoking occurred were more likely to experience declines in HDL cholesterol levels,” said the study’s lead author, Chi Le-Ha, MD, of the University of Western Australia. “Secondhand smoke did not have the same impact on teenage boys of the same age, which suggests passive smoking exposure may be more harmful to girls. Considering cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women in the western world, this is a serious concern.”
Researchers studied a longitudinal birth cohort of 1,057 adolescents who were born between 1989 and 1992 in Perth, Australia. The study gathered information about smoking in the household beginning at 18 weeks gestation and leading up to when the children turned 17. During that time, 48 percent of the participants were exposed to secondhand smoke at home. Blood tests were performed to measure the teenagers’ cholesterol levels.
Our Senior Cardiac Nurse, June Davison, said: “This study suggests second-hand smoke could be more harmful for teenage girls than boys. “We don’t know enough about why second-hand smoke has more of an effect on young girls, so we hope further research will provide answers. What we do know is that passive smoking can increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease, the single biggest killer of women in the UK.
“Whatever your gender, growing up exposed to second-hand smoke can affect habits as well as health – children whose family smoke at home are more likely to start smoking themselves. Making homes and cars smoke-free will protect children from the dangers of passive smoking, and help teenagers towards a healthier adult life.”
Considering cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women in the western world, this is a serious concern.’Dr Le-Ha added: ‘The findings indicate childhood passive smoke exposure may be a more significant cardiovascular risk factor for women than men.
‘We need to redouble public health efforts to reduce young children’s second-hand smoke exposure in the home, particularly girls’ exposure.’The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.