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Most women probably don't want to rush into menopause. But chemicals you encounter every day could speed up the onset of menopause by close to 4 years.
Most women probably don't want to be rushed into menopause. But that seems to be what's happening thanks to our modern soup of environmental chemicals.
It's estimated that we live in a world saturated with over 80,000 man-made chemicals. They're in pharmaceuticals, food, personal care products, cleaning products, cars, clothing, computers, and innumerable household items.
These chemicals persist in the environment and accumulate in our bodies. Many, known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), interfere with hormone activity. They've been linked to certain cancers, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, low sperm count, early puberty, infertility, and pregnancy complications.
Now in a study published in the journal PLoS ONE, a team of researchers has linked exposure to these chemicals with an earlier age at menopause.[i] In fact, these chemicals might send you into menopause almost four years earlier!
Early menopause means more time for hot flashes, mood swings, and memory fog, and increased risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, and breast cancer.
The study was based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999 to 2008 covering 31,575 women aged 45 to 55 years old.
The researchers looked at 111 EDCs including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, coolants) and DDT. They also examined the effects of dioxins/furans (combustion byproducts), phthalates (plasticizers), phytoestrogens (plant-derived estrogens), phenolic derivatives (phenols, industrial pollutants), organophosphate pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, combustion products), and surfactants.
They focused on chemicals that are already known to disrupt reproductive function.
Their results showed a clinically significant association between 15 EDCs and age at menopause. That included nine PCBs, three pesticides, a furan (similar to dioxin), and two phthalates.
Phthalates have already been cited as a concern for menopausal women because of their endocrine disrupting properties. They are commonly used in building materials like plastic flooring and wall coverings, food processing materials and medical devices. They are also found in many personal-care products such as shampoos, nail polish, deodorants, fragrances, cosmetics, hair gels, mousses, hairsprays, and hand and body lotions. You'll also find them in varnishes and some nutritional supplement coatings.
Previous studies have also found that use of phthalates among pregnant women can lead to a feminization of boy babies and infertility in men. Animal studies suggest they can lead to breast cancer.
In this study women with high levels of the 15 EDCs had mean ages of menopause that were 1.9 to 3.8 years earlier than women with the lowest levels. And women exposed to the EDCs were up to 6 times more likely to be menopausal compared to women without exposure.
The effects were much greater for the 15 EDCs than for tobacco smoke which another NHANES study linked to 0.8 to 1.4 years earlier menopause.
Some of these chemicals may be illegal or not currently in production. For instance PCBs have been banned since the 1970s. But they still persist throughout the environment and pose an ongoing risk. And the researchers noted that PCBs as a group caused the most concern for reproductive effects.
In addition, most of the chemicals that affected menopause had a half-life in humans of 10 years or more. In other words, once exposed to one of these toxins it takes 10 years for the body to process just half of it.
How To Protect Yourself From Environmental Chemicals
It's virtually impossible to avoid all 80,000 chemicals regularly produced or used throughout the world. But here are a few things you can do to help reduce the toxic burden on you and your family.
- Eat organic fruits and vegetables to avoid pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. And avoid those chemicals in your own gardening.
- Eat organic pasture raised meat, poultry, and dairy. Animals accumulate chemicals from pesticides and fertilizer in their fat and tissue.
- Avoid farmed fish that can be contaminated with PCBs and mercury. Instead, find a trusted source of wild-caught fish, or stick with small fish that are less likely to accumulate toxins in their flesh.
- Check for toxic ingredients in cosmetics and toiletries and try to buy non-toxic versions. Visit the Environmental Working Group's list of safe personal care products that are free of phthalates and other dangerous chemicals.
- Avoid fabric softeners, dryer sheets, and other scented products, perfumes and air fresheners. Try natural aromatic oils and essential oils instead.
- Try unscented laundry soaps and all-natural cleaning products in your home.
- Use filtered water in place of tap or bottled water.
- Avoid using plastic containers to the extent that you can, and don't drink from plastic cups. Use glass receptacles instead.
- Don't microwave in plastic containers or use plastic wrap when microwaving.
- Avoid using food in cans that may have BPA linings.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with high-quality stainless steel or enameled cast-iron cookware.
- Detoxify petrochemicals through sweating and related natural interventions.
[i] Grindler NM, Allsworth JE, Macones GA, Kannan K, Roehl KA, Cooper AR (2015) "Persistent Organic Pollutants and Early Menopause in U.S. Women." PLoS ONE 10(1): e0116057. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116057