Plastics chemicals linked to earlier menopause

By Jasminee Sahoye

HealthColumThere is speculation that chemicals found in plastics, personal-care products, common household items and the environment can affect our wellbeing.

A study is confirming that women whose bodies have high levels of the chemicals, experience menopause two to four years earlier than women with lower levels of these chemicals.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis looked at levels in blood and urine of 111 chemicals that are suspected of interfering with the natural production and distribution of hormones in the body.

The research is reported to be the first to broadly explore the association between menopause and individual chemicals on a large scale, using a nationally representative sample of patients across the U.S.

“Chemicals linked to earlier menopause may lead to an early decline in ovarian function, and our results suggest we as a society should be concerned,” said senior author Amber Cooper, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

Problems already associated to the chemicals include certain cancers, metabolic syndrome and, in younger females, early puberty.

“Many of these chemical exposures are beyond our control because they are in the soil, water and air,” Cooper said. “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.”

For example, Cooper recommends people microwave food in glass or paper containers instead of in plastic and try to learn more about the ingredients in cosmetics, personal-care products and food packaging they use every day.

Although many of the chemicals included in the study have been banned from U.S. production because of their negative health effects, they still are produced globally and are pervasive in the environment.

Cooper and researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine and the Wadsworth Centre at the State University of New York at Albany analyzed data collected from 1999-2008 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The survey included 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 was using estrogen-replacement therapies or had had surgery to remove ovaries.

Chemicals in the following categories were analyzed in the survey: dioxins / furans (industrial combustion byproducts); phthalates (found in plastics, common household items, pharmaceuticals and personal-care products including lotions, perfumes, makeup, nail polish, liquid soap and hair spray); phytoestrogens (plant-derived estrogens); polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, coolants); phenolic derivatives (phenols, industrial pollutants); organophosphate pesticides; surfactants; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (combustion products).

“This study doesn’t prove causation, but the associations raise a red flag and support the need for future research,” Cooper said.

In a related story, an epidemiologist from Stanford University Dr. Thu Quach said nail care products contain toxic and potentially hazardous ingredients Toulene, formaldehyde and ibutyl phthalate are known as the ‘toxic trio’  These can damage nervous system, hormones and have been linked with illnesses like cancer and fertility problems .

Toluene is a commonly used solvent that creates a smooth finish across the nail and keeps the pigment – the colour – from separating in the bottle. It can affect the central nervous system and cause reproductive harm. Its major use is as an additive in gasoline.

Quach said many nail salons lack adequate ventilation. This means chemicals evaporated from nail products are often trapped inside salons – and workers are continuously exposed, so workers’ exposure is amplified: First they experience direct contact with the chemicals in the products, then they continuously breathe in these chemicals within small, poorly ventilated salons.

Exposure to nail care products with harmful chemicals can result in a number of health effects, ranging from skin irritations, eye injuries and allergic reactions.

They also have thinking and memory problems, neurological symptoms, nausea, respiratory problems, cancer and uncontrollable muscle contractions to impaired reproductive and development processes.