The study included 2,030 postmenopausal women between the ages of 55 and 81 (average age 65) who were grouped as current smokers, former smokers, or never smokers.
Blood samples were taken from all the study participants and sex hormone levels were analyzed.
Compared to nonsmokers, current smokers had higher overall levels of multiple male hormones such as testosterone. They also had higher estrogen levels -- a finding that has not been seen in many earlier studies, Brand says.
In fact, many previous studies have found that smoking causes estrogen levels to drop.
Sex hormone levels were highest for the heaviest smokers in the study. But women who had stopped smoking within one to two years of entry had levels that were similar to women who had never smoked.
"Obviously, quitting smoking has major health benefits such as prevention of cancer, respiratory disease, and heart disease," Brand says. He adds that smoking cessation may have additional benefits by modifying hormone-related disease risk.
The association was seen even after the researchers took into account higher body weight. Women who are obese tend to have higher levels of estrogen and testosterone in their blood.
The study appears this week in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.