QUTTING smoking can be tough.
But now scientists have revealed that you might find stubbing cigarettes out for good even harder if you're a woman.
Medics at Uppsala University, Sweden said this is because just one stick can block oestrogen production in women's brains.
Lead researcher Professor Erika Comasco said: "For the first time, we can see that nicotine works to shuts down the oestrogen production mechanism in the brain of women.
"We were surprised to see that this effect could be seen even with a single dose of nicotine, equivalent to just one cigarette, showing how powerful the effects of smoking are on a woman's brain.
"This is a newly-discovered effect, and it's still preliminary work.
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"We're still not sure what the behavioural or cognitive outcomes are; only that nicotine acts on this area of the brain, however we note that the affected brain system is a target for addictive drugs, such as nicotine."
Scientists looked at data from ten healthy females who were each given a dose of nicotine equivalent to that in one cigarette.
Then, they were injected with a radioactive tracer that attached to a molecule in the body that binds to aromatase, the enzyme that produces oestrogen.
To understand how this impacted the participants, they used MRI and PET brain scans.
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This helped to identify the amount of oestrogen in the body and identify where it was in the brain.
Results showed that the single dose moderately reduced the amount of aromatase in the brain, meaning there was less oestrogen.
The study was just undertaken on women, and scientists have yet to complete the experiment on male counterparts.
Prof Comasco said the study has led researchers to believe that nicotine has a significant impact on the brain.
He added: "But perhaps also on other functions, such as the reproductive system – we don't know that yet.
"There are significant differences in the way men and women react to smoking.
"Women seem to be more resistant to nicotine replacement therapy, they experience more relapses, show greater vulnerability for heritability of smoking, and are at greater risk of developing primary smoking-related illnesses, such as lung cancer and heart attacks."
Now, he said, experts need to understand if this action of nicotine on the hormonal system is involved in any of these reactions.
"Of course this is a comparatively small group of women, we need a larger sample to confirm these findings.
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"Nevertheless, the message is that nicotine has various effects on the brain, including on the production of sex hormones such as oestrogen".
The findings are due to be presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress in Vienna, Austria.
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