New data published in PLOS One have linked endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) with earlier age at menopause in women.
“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,” study researcher Amber R. Cooper, MD, of the University of Washington in St. Louis, Missouri, said in a press release.
Although research has associated EDC exposure with a number of health problems, including cancer, metabolic syndrome and pregnancy complications, the relationship between these chemicals and age at menopause has yet to be thoroughly explored, according to background information in the article.
For the study, the researchers evaluated data on 31,575 women from the Nutritional Health and Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999 to 2008. Participants were included if they were aged older than 30 years (n=13,705), menopausal (n=2,159) and had been selected for EDC testing (n=1,442). Average age was 61 years.
The researchers analyzed the levels in the blood and urine of 111 chemicals, primarily focusing on those containing known reproductive toxins and with half-lives exceeding 1 year. Chemical categories included dioxins/furans; phthalates; phytoestrogens; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); phenolic derivatives; organophosphate pesticides; surfactants; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
“Many of these chemical exposures are beyond our control because they are in the soil, water and air,” Dr. Cooper said. “But we can educate ourselves about our day-to-day chemical exposures and become more aware of the plastics and household products we use.”
The researchers identified 15 chemicals, including nine PCBs, three pesticides, two phthalates and a furan, that should be more closely examined, as results revealed a significant association between these chemicals and earlier age at menopause.
Specifically, data showed that ages of menopause were 1.9 to 3.8 years earlier among women with the highest EDC levels vs. those without any exposure. Further, in a secondary analysis of women aged 45 to 55 years, those exposed to EDCs were up to six times as likely to be menopausal than those with no exposure.
The researchers also found that, for nine of the 10 EDCs linked to earlier age at menopause, results suggest that increasing serum or urine levels of EDCs, not just absolute levels, may be associated with loss of ovarian function.
“Earlier menopause can alter the quality of a woman’s life and has profound implications for fertility, health and our society,” Dr. 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.”