Early menopause & environmental chemicals

Author: Sarah Knox, PhD, Epidemiologist and Professor in the Department of Community Medicine and lead author of the study

Date: Mar 2011

West Virginia University Department of Community Medicine found that women with high levels of an environmental chemical are at increased odds of having experienced menopause earlier in life than those with lower levels.

Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) are manmade chemicals that are used in a variety of household products, including stain repellants and waterproofing found in food containers, clothing, furniture, carpet and paint. Because of their widespread use, PFCs are also found in water, air, soil, plants, animals and humans.

West Virginia University Department of Community Medicine found that women with high levels of an environmental chemical are at increased odds of having experienced menopause earlier in life than those with lower levels. “PFCs are toxins that shouldn’t be in our bodies in the first place, but 98 percent of people tested have measurable levels of PFCs in their blood,” Sarah Knox, PhD, epidemiologist and professor in the Department of Community Medicine and lead author of the study, said.

The study included 25,957 women ages 18-65 in eight water districts in the Parkersburg area. Researchers found a significant association between high PFC levels in the blood and an early onset of self-reported menopause as well as low estrogen levels. However, the causality is still unclear.

“If the PFCs are causing early menopause, then those women are at an increased risk for heart issues. If they aren’t, there are still toxins accumulating in the body that shouldn’t be there,” Dr. Knox said. “Either way, it’s bad news.”

The next step, Knox said, is to determine an estimated age of menopause and to conduct a population-based study to figure out the causality.

In the meantime, Knox said there are things that people can do to reduce their exposure to PFCs:

  • Have hardwood floors in the home instead of stain-resistant carpeting
  • Wear all-cotton clothing; do not put children in flame-resistant clothing
  • Make popcorn in an air popper instead of a microwave
  • Microwave food in glass instead of plastic containers
  • Use cast-iron cookware instead of non-stick coated cookware

Other WVU researchers who participated in the study include: Alan Ducatman MD, Anoop Shankar MD, PhD, Stephanie Frisbee PhD and Beth Javins and Beth Javins of the Department of Community Medicine and Timonthy Jackson MD of the Department of Medicine.

The study, “Implications of Early Menopause in Women Exposed to Perfluorocarbons,” will appear in the June issue of the “Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism,” the world’s leading peer-reviewed journal for endocrine clinical research and cutting-edge clinical practice reviews.

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Last revised: 27 November 2017

Next review: 27 November 2020