Women who have the highest levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) from a wide variety of common household and personal-care products enter menopause anywhere from 1.9 to 3.8 years earlier than those who have lower levels of EDC, a cross-sectional sample of US women is showing.
“Even menopause a few years earlier than usual could have a significant effect on bone health, on cardiovascular health, on memory and quality of life for women in general,” senior author Dr Amber Cooper (Washington University, St Louis, Missouri) told Medscape Medical News.
“But I think the bigger question — and one that warrants further research — is what’s happening at the other end of the ovarian health spectrum. Is the age at which we get pregnant shifting earlier as well, so there are other events on the spectrum that we need to address?”
In their analysis of women in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), published online January 28 in PLOS One, Dr Cooper and colleagues identified 15 EDCs that they say warrant closer evaluation “because of their persistence (long half-life) and potential detrimental effects on ovarian function” — nine polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), three pesticides, a furan, and two phthalates were significantly associated with earlier ages of menopause on at least one type of analysis, they report.
“The observed magnitudes of effect of these 15 chemicals…are larger than those previously documented for primary exposure to tobacco smoke,” they state. Tobacco smoke has been shown in prior NHANES studies to be associated with 0.8 to 1.4 years of earlier-onset menopause.
Asked to comment on the study, Dr Andrea Gore (University of Texas, Austin), editor-in-chief of Endocrinology, said it is difficult to avoid exposure to some of these chemicals.
“In many cases, these chemicals were banned 40 years ago in the US, yet we know that they are very persistent in the environment, and if persistent chemicals were found in people’s bodies in 2008 [the last year Dr Cooper’s team analyzed], they are still being found in people’s bodies in 2015,” she told Medscape Medical News.
But she says women can help limit their exposure to EDCs by avoiding processed and packaged foods and beverages: “Eating fresh foods that don’t undergo any processing in factories or foods that don’t come into contact with packaging will help minimize the exposure,” she suggested.
The subject of endocrine-disrupting chemicals is one of controversy: just last month, Europe’s food safety watchdog said one chemical used to stiffen some plastic food containers, bisphenol A (BPA), poses no health risk to consumers of any age, including unborn children, at current levels of exposure. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned BPA from baby bottles in 2012 but said there was not enough evidence for a wider ban and has found the chemical safe at low levels.