Household Chemicals Linked to Earlier Menopause

February 13, 2015

Women with higher levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals from both environmental and household exposure have an earlier onset of menopause.

Scientists have found an association between high levels of chemical exposure from everyday products and earlier menopause.

Women with high levels of chemicals found in plastics, personal-care products, common household items, and the environment experienced menopause two to four years earlier than women with lower chemical levels, researchers reported online in the journal PLOS ONE.

The association was revealed after researchers analyzed 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 were using estrogen-replacement therapies or had had surgery to remove the ovaries.

Key Points:

- Women with higher levels of chemical exposure to a wide variety of common chemicals are more likely to enter menopause earlier than non-exposed women, according to research detailing the association.

- Specifically, 15 chemicals were identified that require further study because of their persistence (half lives > 1 year) and potential to negatively affect ovarian function.

Relying on chemical exposure detected in blood and urine samples, the researchers chose not to focus just on a few endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Instead, they looked more broadly at the topic by including exposures to any of 111 endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

"Many of these chemical exposures are beyond our control, because they are in the soil, water, and air," said senior author Amber Cooper, MD, in a news release. "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."

The mostly man-made chemicals included in the exposure list ran the gambit from industrial combustion byproducts to those found in plastics and common household items. Dioxins/furans, phthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and phenolic derivatives were among the toxins reviewed.

While the researchers looked at a large swath of potential chemical hazards, they ultimately identified 15 chemicals-nine PCBs, three pesticides, two phthalates, and a furan (a toxic chemical)-that they said were significantly associated with earlier onset of menopause and potentially have detrimental effects on ovarian function.

Specifically, women with high levels of β-hexachlorocyclohexane, mirex, p,p’-DDE, 1,2,3,4,6,7,8-heptachlorodibenzofuran, mono-(2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl) and mono-(2-ethyl-5-oxohexyl) phthalate, and a number of polychlorinated biphenyl congeners had mean ages of menopause 1.9 to 3.8 years earlier than women with lower levels of these chemicals, according to the results. And overall, women exposed to these chemicals were up to 6 times more likely to be menopausal than non-exposed women.