A study from Washington University School of Medicine at St. Louis finds that women who have elevated levels of certain chemicals, commonly found in plastics, some household products, and the environment, experience menopause 2-4 years earlier than women with lower levels of these chemicals.
Menopause is a condition that occurs in women where their ovaries stop producing hormones like estrogen and progesterone. This results in cessation of menstruation and an inability to reproduce anymore.
The investigation under discussion used a nationally representative sample of 31, 575 women across the United States. The data was collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2008. This survey was conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The average age of these women was 61, and their ovaries were still intact. None of the women had used estrogen replacement therapy.
Blood and urine samples from these women were tested for 111 Endocrine Disruptive Chemicals (EDCs), which interfere with the natural production and distribution of hormones. These chemicals are known to have a half-life of more than one year, which means that they degrade slowly and persist in an environment for at least one year.
Some examples of EDCs are:
- Pthalates- found in plastics, common household items, pharmaceuticals, and personal-care products including lotions, perfumes, makeup, nail polish, liquid soap, and hair spray.
- Phytoestrogens- found in estrogens derived from plants.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs- found in coolants.
- Organophosphate pesticides.
- Furans or dioxins- from industrial combustion byproducts, etc.
The researchers, led by Dr. Amber Cooper, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, identified 15 EDCs that are persistent in the environment and could have particularly damaging effects on the ovaries. Among the 15 EDCs identified as harmful were nine PCBs, three pesticides, two pthalates, and one furan. According to Dr. Cooper (as reported by Washington University-St. Louis Newsroom), “Chemicals linked to earlier menopause may lead to an early decline in ovarian function, and our results suggest we as a society should be concerned.”
Dr. Cooper adds, “Many of these chemical exposures are beyond our control because they are in the soil, water and air,” Cooper said. “But we can educate ourselves about our day-to-day chemical exposures and become more aware of the plastics and other household products we use.”
Is there anything that women could do to avoid exposure to such chemicals? Dr. Cooper has some suggestions:
- Microwave food in glass or paper containers in place of plastic containers.
- Try to learn more about cosmetics, personal care and food packaging items that are used in day-to-day lives.
- Be aware of banned products in the US. Some may be still in use globally.
Early menopause could also lead to associated health conditions like osteoporosis and heart problems. Additionally, EDCs have been reported to cause cancers, abnormal growth patterns, neurodevelopmental delays in children, and changes in immune function.
“Earlier menopause can alter the quality of a woman’s life and has profound implications for fertility, health, and our society,” Cooper said. “Understanding how the environment affects health is complex. This study doesn’t prove causation, but the associations raise a red flag and support the need for future research.”
Written by Mangala Sarkar Ph.D.
Grindler, N., Allsworth, J., Macones, G., Kannan, K., Roehl, K., & Cooper, A. (2015). Persistent Organic Pollutants and Early Menopause in U.S. Women. PLOS ONE.
Earlier menopause linked to everyday chemical exposures | Newsroom | Washington University in St. Louis. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2015, from http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/menopause-chemicals.aspx
Menopause. (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2015, from http://www.dovemed.com/menopause/
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2015, from http://www.who.int/ceh/risks/cehemerging2/en/