Chemicals we’re exposed to on a daily basis have long been suspected of playing a role in the development of serious health problems, including certain cancers. We’re now learning that chemicals found in plastics, personal-care products, common household items, and the environment might increase risk for early menopause.
Early menopause affects fertility and shortens a woman’s childbearing years. This isn’t the only concern, however. The loss of estrogen can also lead to other major issues including earlier development of heart disease, osteoporosis, and more.
The chemicals in question when it comes to early menopause are known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The World Health Organization describes these substances as mostly man-made and found in materials such as pesticides, metals, additives or contaminants in food, and personal care products. They’ve been linked to reproductive changes in men and women as well as breast cancer, changes in immune function, and complications with growth and development in children.
To learn more about the impact of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on early menopause, researchers studied over 30,000 people, including almost 1,500 menopausal women. To measure chemical exposure among participants, the researchers performed blood and urine tests for exposure to over 100 endocrine-disrupting chemicals. They created three categories for the length of time women were exposed to chemicals: long, for more than one year; short, for less than one year; and unknown.
They found that women with higher blood and urine levels of certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals went through menopause about two to four years earlier than women with lower levels of exposure. Women who had been exposed to the chemicals were up to six times more likely to be menopausal than women who hadn’t been exposed.
The chemicals that were linked to early menopause are found in plastics, common household items, pharmaceuticals, and personal-care products including lotions, perfumes, makeup, nail polish, liquid soap, and hair spray. Industrial pollutants and chemicals in PCBs (a type of manmade compound once used in electrical equipment) and coolants and certain pesticides were also linked to early menopause.
Chemicals in the environment and our homes appear to have the potential to seriously affect our health, including cause us to start menopause earlier in the life than expected. While research into this important topic continues, we can protect ourselves by carefully reading labels of the products we use on our bodies and bring into our homes. We need to be aware of which chemicals to avoid—such as phthalates, which are found in plastics and many other products.
Not sure how to figure out what’s safe and what’s not? The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) has great resources to help you choose safe products.
 Grindler NM, Allsworth JE, Macones GA, et al. Persistent Organic Pollutants and Early Menopause in U.S. Women. PLoS One. 2015 Jan 28;10(1):e0116057.