Diet and Earlier Menopause
Diet-Related Endocrine Disruptors Linked to Earlier Menopause
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are hormonally active synthetic substances that can mimic, alter or oppose the actions of our body’s natural hormones. EDCs are considered by scientists to be a significant public health concern. Exposure to EDCs is associated with reproductive abnormalities and breast and prostate cancers.1Although we are exposed to EDCs on a daily basis, there are steps we can take to reduce this exposure.
New research suggests that exposure to certain EDCs is linked to an earlier age at menopause. Earlier menopause is significant because it can represent a premature decline in ovary function. At earlier points in time, this could cause reduced fertility. A premature decline in ovarian function may also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis after menopause.2,3
Awareness of bisphenol A (BPA) and other EDCs in plastics and food can liners is widespread. However, we are exposed to many EDCs in addition to BPA, such as PCBs, DDT and phthalates. The study used data collected from women across the U.S. on age at their last menstrual cycle and blood or urine concentrations of many different EDCs. High blood concentrations of fifteen EDCs—including nine PCBs, three pesticides and two phthalates—were associated with earlier age at menopause (by 1.9-3.8 years).3
How are we exposed to these chemicals?
PCBs have been banned since the 1970s. Although the quantity has declined, PCBs still persist in the environment and accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals. So we can be exposed to PCBs by eating fatty animal products.4 Some of the most contaminated foods are fish, butter, and ground beef.5 Farmed salmon is one of the most dangerous foods when it comes to PCB content. According to data from the Environmental Working Group on certain PCBs, farmed salmon has 16 times the PCB content of wild salmon and 4 times the PCB content of beef.6
The pesticides that were associated with early menopause in the study were DDE (a breakdown product of DDT), beta-HCH, and mirex. Similar to PCBs, all of these pesticides were banned in the 1970s, but still persist in the environment, and primarily we are exposed to these chemicals by eating animal foods.7,8
The strongest links to early menopause were for the two phthalates, which are indicators of exposure to a plasticizer called DEHP. Phthalates such as DEHP are used to make plastic materials (especially PVC plastics) more pliable.9 Phthalates are also used in cosmetics and fragrances, pharmaceuticals, cleaning products, and insecticides.10 For DEHP, our exposure comes primarily from plastic food packaging, and limiting intake of packaged foods has been shown to reduce urine DEHP concentration. In a dietary intervention study, participants were instructed to eat fresh foods that were not canned or packaged in plastic for three days. Urine levels of DEHP (and also BPA) decreased during the three-day intervention.9
Ways to minimize exposure to these EDCs:
- Avoid or minimize animal products, especially fish.
- Minimize foods packaged in plastic (especially plastics with recycling code #3).
- Check ingredient lists on personal care products for phthalates.
- Avoid cleaning products and personal care products with “fragrance” in the ingredient list.10,11
1. Diamanti-Kandarakis E, Bourguignon JP, Giudice LC, et al: Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: an Endocrine Society scientific statement. Endocr Rev 2009;30:293-342.
2. Atsma F, Bartelink ML, Grobbee DE, et al: Postmenopausal status and early menopause as independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis. Menopause 2006;13:265-279.
3. Grindler NM, Allsworth JE, Macones GA, et al: Persistent organic pollutants and early menopause in u.s. Women. PLoS One 2015;10:e0116057.
4. Carpenter DO: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): routes of exposure and effects on human health. Rev Environ Health2006;21:1-23.
5. Crinnion WJ: Polychlorinated biphenyls: persistent pollutants with immunological, neurological, and endocrinological consequences. Altern Med Rev 2011;16:5-13.
6. Environmental Working Group. PCBs in Farmed Salmon. [http://www.ewg.org/research/pcbs-farmed-salmon]
7. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Persistent Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) Chemical Program. DDT.
8. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals: Organochlorine Pesticides. 2009. http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/pdf/fourthreport.pdf. Accessed May 30, 2014.
9. Rudel RA, Gray JM, Engel CL, et al: Food packaging and bisphenol A and bis(2-ethyhexyl) phthalate exposure: findings from a dietary intervention. Environ Health Perspect 2011;119:914-920.
10. Breast Cancer Fund. Phthalates. [http://www.breastcancerfund.org/clear-science/radiation-chemicals-and-breast-cancer/phthalates.html]
11. Natural Resources Defense Council. Smarter living: Chemical Index. Phthalates.[http://www.nrdc.org/living/chemicalindex/phthalates.asp]