Could Exposure to Everyday Chemicals Lead to Earlier Menopause?

Exposure to high levels of common chemicals found in plastics, personal care products, and some general household items may lead to earlier onset of menopause, according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Our study was the first to demonstrate an association between endocrine-disrupting chemicals and age of menopause,” says study co-author Natalia Grindler, MD, a fellow in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility and Advanced Reproductive Medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus of University of Colorado Denver.

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“Our data demonstrate associations between 15 endocrine-specific chemicals and earlier age at menopause—with menopause occurring as much as 3.8 years earlier in women with the highest levels,” she says.

Grindler and colleagues analyzed data collected from 1999 to 2008 as part of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The survey included data from 1,442 menopausal women who had undergone endocrine-disrupting chemicals and was designed to represent a population of almost 9 million menopausal women.

The average age of these women was 61, and none of them had undergone surgery to remove their ovaries or was using any type of estrogen-replacement therapy. Researchers analyzed their blood and urine samples for exposure to 111 mostly man-made chemicals suspected of disturbing natural hormone production and distribution.

Of those, they pinpointed 15 chemicals that need closer evaluation—9 polychlorinated biphenyls, 3 pesticides, 2 phthalates, and a furan. Significantly associated with earlier ages of menopause, these chemicals could potentially have detrimental effects on ovarian function.

“Although menopause timing is only one negative health impact that might be associated with endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure, it is a very important one,” Grindler says. “Any early decline in ovarian function could increase rates of infertility and lead to earlier development of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and other medical problems among women.”

Previous studies have linked exposure to these common chemical with other deleterious health effects, including various types of cancers, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease, among others.

“We are currently investigating the maternal-fetal transmission between mother and baby for polychlorinated biphenyls and also have interest in exploring the epigenetic inheritance of phthalates,” Grindler says. “We need further research in the form of animal models and prospective studies in order to determine whether there is a direct effect of these chemicals on the ovary.”

Although many of these chemicals have been banned from production in the U.S., some of these chemicals and other related chemicals still produced globally are persistent.

“Our study illustrated an association between these chemicals and earlier menopause but did not prove causation,” Grindler says. “That being said, we think it is important that consumers educate themselves about the chemical exposures of daily life and how to reduce the potential exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”

Colleen Mullarkey


Grinder NM, Allsworth JE, Macones GA, Kurunthachalam K, Roehl KA, Cooper AR. Persistent organic pollutants and early menopause in U.S. women. PLOS ONE. 28 Jan 2015. [Epub ahead of print]