Women whose bodies have high levels of chemicals found in plastics, personal-care products, common household items and the environment get menopause two to four years earlier, according to a study in the US.
The research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the first to broadly explore the association between menopause and individual chemicals on a large scale, is reported in the journal PLOS ONE.
The scientists looked at levels in blood and urine of 111 chemicals suspected of interfering with the natural production and distribution of hormones in the body.
“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,” said Amber Cooper, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology.
A decline in ovarian function not only can adversely affect fertility but also can lead to earlier development of heart disease, osteoporosis and other health problems. Other problems already linked to the chemicals include certain cancers, metabolic syndrome and, in younger females, early puberty.
“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.”
Cooper recommends that people microwave food in glass or paper containers instead of in plastic and try to learn more about the ingredients in cosmetics, personal-care products and food packaging.
Many of the chemicals have been banned from US production because of their negative health effects but they still are produced globally.
The study included data from 31,575 people, including 1,442 menopausal women who had been tested for levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The average age of these women was 61, and none was using estrogen-replacement therapies or had had surgery to remove ovaries.
Chemicals from the following categories were analysed: dioxins/furans (industrial combustion byproducts); phthalates (found in plastics, common household items, pharmaceuticals and personal-care products including lotions, perfumes, makeup, nail polish, liquid soap and hair spray); phytoestrogens (plant-derived estrogens); polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, coolants); phenolic derivatives (phenols, industrial pollutants); organophosphate pesticides; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (combustion products).
The researchers identified 15 chemicals — nine PCBs, three pesticides, two phthalates and a furan (a toxic chemical) — which warrant closer evaluation because they are significantly associated with earlier ages of menopause and potentially have detrimental effects on ovarian 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.”
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