Pesticide Exposure May Worsen Heart Disease Risk in Obese Women

Pesticide exposure may exacerbate obesity's impact on heart health in younger women, according to data.

Pesticide exposure may contribute to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and inflammation in obese premenopausal women, according to study results published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

“Some chemicals used in consumer products or manufacturing (eg, plastics, pesticides) have estrogenic activities; these xenoestrogens may affect immune responses and have recently emerged as new risk factors for obesity and cardiovascular disease,” the researchers wrote. “However, the extent and impact on health of chronic exposure of the general population to [xenoestrogens] are still unknown.”

In this study, Diana Teixeira, a PhD student of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto in Portugal, and colleagues evaluated the effects of exposure to polychlorinated pesticides like DDT. Though many countries banned DDT in the 1970s, the substance remains widespread in the environment and food supply, according to a press release.

“After the body breaks down DDT along with similar pesticides, chemical remnants called metabolites accumulate in women’s fat tissue,” Teixeira said in the release. “When higher amounts of these environmental estrogens collect in fat tissue, it can compromise the protective effect the body’s natural estrogen has on a premenopausal woman’s heart health. This leaves women at increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease and inflammation.”

The researchers evaluated the xenoestrogen levels in blood and visceral and subcutaneous adipose tissue samples of 121 Portuguese women with BMIs of at least 35 who underwent bariatric surgery at S. João Hospital in Porto. They also assessed fasting blood glucose, cholesterol and 10-year CVD risk using the Framingham Risk Score.

Of the participants, 73 were deemed premenopausal and 48 were postmenopausal.

Results revealed significant associations between levels of xenoestrogens and metabolic and inflammatory parameters. Among those who were premenopausal, women with higher concentrations of xenoestrogens in their visceral adipose tissue were more likely to have higher average blood glucose levels.

Further, premenopausal women with higher levels of xenoestrogens in their blood tended to have more inflammation and a greater 10-year CVD risk on the Framingham scale.

The researchers also noted that xenoestrogens appeared to be pervasive in the study population, although distribution of individual and concentration of total xenoestrogens differed between plasma, visceral adipose tissue and subcutaneous adipose tissue. Patterns were also different between pre- and postmenopausal women.

“Our findings show that endocrine-disrupting chemicals tend to aggravate complications of obesity, including inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk, in premenopausal women,” Teixeira said. “Measuring environmental estrogen levels may help physicians identify women who are at risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic disease so they can take preventative action.”


  1. Teixeira D et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015;doi:10.1210/jc.2014-4136.