Household Chemicals Linked to Early Menopause

Perfluorocarbons may affect endocrine system.

Women who are exposed to high levels of household chemicals called perfluorocarbons—or PFCs—may experience menopause earlier than other women, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.[1]

PFCs have been widely used for many years in products such as non-stick pans, plastic food containers, furniture, and carpeting. The chemicals have a long half-life in humans and mounting evidence continues to indicate that they may be associated with a variety of health problems. PFC use in the United States will be phased out by the year 2015—but not before millions of women have endured long-term exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals.

Because of their long half-life, PFCs persist in our environment—they are found in water, soil, plants, animals, and people. Research indicates that these chemicals may act as endocrine disruptors—meaning they interfere with hormone function.

Researchers studied 26,000 West Virginia women whose drinking-water supplies had been contaminated with PFCs from a nearby plant in 2005 and 2006. They found that women with higher levels of a PFC called PFOS were more likely to go through menopause earlier than women with lower levels of PFOS. Women between the ages of 42 and 51 who were in the top 20 percent of PFOS levels were 40 percent more likely to have gone through menopause than women of the same age in the bottom 20 percent of PFOS levels. Furthermore, the odds increased among women over age 51—with women in the top group of PFOS levels being twice as likely to have gone through menopause than women in the bottom group.

The researchers are quick to note that this is a correlation, not a causation—but it does raise concern. They noted that as PFOS levels rose, estrogen levels dipped—leading them to believe that PFC exposure could be disrupting endocrine function.

Why is early menopause a concern? Reduced estrogen levels can increase the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Heart disease is the number one killer of women over the age of 35. The risk of heart disease increases as estrogen levels decline.
Research is ongoing to continue to evaluate the risks associated with PFC exposure. Until definitive data emerges, women can take steps to reduce PFC exposure by avoiding non-stick cookware, grease-resistant food containers, and stain- or water-resistant fabrics.

Reference:


[1] Knox SS, Jackson T, Javins B, et al. Implications of early menopause in women exposed to perfluorocarbons. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Published early online: March 16, 2011. doi:10.1210/jc.2010-2401