Common Chemicals May Cause Earlier Menopause
Common chemicals found in shampoos, cosmetics, plastics, flooring, cars, food, and the environment may be causing women to experience an earlier menopause than normal. When these endocrine-disrupting chemicals are present at high levels, they can interfere with the normal production and activity of hormones in the body and result in additional health problems as well.
Scientists have been aware for some time that common chemicals capable of disrupting hormone levels are associated with various cancers, metabolic syndrome, pregnancy complications, behavior problems in kids, cardiovascular disease, lower sperm quality, and abnormally early age of puberty. The impact of these substances on the start of menopause, however, has not been evaluated on a large scale.
Chemicals and earlier menopause study
This new study, which was conducted by a team at Washington University at St. Louis, included survey data from 31,575 individuals, of which 1,442 were menopausal women. The latter group had been tested for levels of 111 chemicals known to disrupt endocrine function. The design of the survey was such that the menopausal group represented nearly 9 million menopausal women.
The category of chemicals evaluated included dioxins/furans, phthalates, phytoestrogens, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phenolic derivatives, organophosphate pesticides, surfactants, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. All of the chemicals were known to have an adverse effect on reproduction and/or took more than one year to break down.
Of the chemicals studied, the scientists identified nine PCBs, three pesticides, two phthalates, and one furan that were significantly associated with women starting menopause at an earlier age. Specifically, women who had the highest levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals started menopause 1.9 to 3.8 years earlier than those without. (The average age of menopause is 51 years.)
All but one of the 15 toxins showed evidence that increasing amounts of exposure to these chemicals could have negative effects on function of the ovaries. Ovarian dysfunction can lead to earlier development of osteoporosis, heart disease, and other health challenges.
According to Amber Cooper, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and the study’s senior author, “Earlier menopause can alter the quality of a woman’s life and has profound implications for fertility, health and our society.” She also pointed out that “This study doesn’t prove causation, but the associations raise a red flag and support the need for future research.”
What women can do
PCBs was the category that had the largest number of culprits. Even though manufacture of these chemicals was banned in the United States in 1979 and in many other countries as well, they still linger in the environment and in products that were made before that time. Avoiding these toxins is virtually impossible, but if you are exposed to items produced before the ban, be sure they are disposed of properly.
It is always a good idea to avoid exposure to pesticides, which can be done by using natural means to treat your garden and lawn and choosing organically grown produce. The three pesticides identified in this study as being associated with earlier menopause (DDE, Mirex, and beta-hexachlorocyclohexane) have not been produced in the United States for decades but, like PCBs, linger in the environment and still are used in some places in the world.
Phthalates, which are chemicals that act as lubricants in cosmetics and make plastics flexible, are everywhere. They are in food packaging, water supply, nearly anything that has a fragrance (e.g., shampoos, laundry detergent, air fresheners), vinyl flooring, shower curtains, plastic toys, and carpeting, to name just a few. You can try to avoid phthalates by not using plastic containers in your microwave, using natural healthcare and beauty products, and educating yourself about the ingredients in your health and beauty items and food packaging.
This study represents the first one to investigate the relationship between common chemicals and start of menopause on a large scale among individuals in the United States. Future studies may help us better understand the impact of these toxins on health and how to avoid them.
Also read about a positive aspect of early menopause