Exposure to Perfluorocarbons is Linked to the Onset of Menopause

Written by Diana Abdi, BS. This Study of 25,957 women between 18 and 65 years of age found that peri-menopausal and menopausal women had the highest levels of perfluorocarbons.

Numerous household products, including food containers, clothing, furniture, carpets, paints, fire-fighting foam and photographic emulsifiers, contain man-made chemicals known as, perfluorcarbons (PFC), which may be associated with endocrine disruption in women exposed to them (3).  Found throughout the home, PFCs can be breathed in via dust or vapor, or eaten in foods.  They repel water and fat, and so have been used to make non-stick cookware, greaseproof food packaging and stain-resistant sprays for clothes and carpets (1).  PFCs have been linked to thyroid cancer, immune system problems, heart disease and researchers also believe they act as hormone disrupters in the body (1).  A greater concern of PFCs is that they have a long half-life and have a ubiquitous presence in human blood and internal organs (3).

Due to health concerns, the company 3M Chemolite facility in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, halted the production of certain PFCs such as, perfluoroctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) chemicals in Scotchgard consumer products in 2002 (1, 4).  DuPont, manufacture of Teflon, announced in 2000 they planned to phase out the PFC chemicals by 2015 (1, 4).  In 2004, DuPont spent over $100 million to ensure that the water in homes of Ohio and West Virginia residents weren’t contaminated with PFOA (7).  In that same year, DuPont also agreed to pay $16.5 million to the EPA in fines and support of research and education (7).

In a recent study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers at the University of West Virginia found a possible association between the onset of menopause and PFC chemicals (2, 3).  The study included 25,957 women between the ages of 18 and 65, which participated in the C8 Health Project, that collected information of nearly 69,000 people from six public water districts contaminated by PFOAs from the DuPont Washington Works Plant in August 2005-2006 (3, 6).  The women in which participated in the study were divided intro three separate age groups; child bearing age (18-42 yr), perimenopausal age (>42-51 yr), and menopausal age group (>/51-65 yr), based on each participant’s answer to the question whether she had experienced menopause (3).  Blood samples of each participant were analyzed for serum estradiol, a hormone made in the ovaries prior to menopause (5), and PFC levels (3, 6).

Researchers found that the highest levels of PFOS were present in women who were 40% more likely to have experienced menopause (6), the perimenopausal and menopausal age group (>/42-65 yr), and that the women in this age group also showed a significantly lower concentration of the female hormone, estrogen (1, 3).  One perfluorocarbon is known to affect the level of hormone estradiol, and women start to enter menopause as estradiol levels decrease (6).  To determine whether hysterectomy made a difference, PFC concentrations of women with and without hysterectomy of ages 40-55 were compared (3).  Concentrations of PFOA and PFOS were significantly higher in women with a hysterectomy (3).  This study is the largest ever to be done on the endocrine disrupting effects of PFC in human woman (3), however, the study does not show that higher PFCs actually cause earlier menopause (1).  Researchers also linked menstrual flow to higher PFC concentrations in post menopausal women, because they are no longer losing blood (3).  Monthly menstruation eliminates some of the PFCs from the body; therefore, PFC concentrations measured in menstruating women could be lower than those who are not, even with equal PFC exposure levels (3, 6).

As monthly menstruation ends, as seen in early menopause, PFC levels are higher, which researchers associate with a reverse causation, that the loss of menses causes an increase in PFC concentrations rather than increased PFC causing early menopause (3).  Early onset of menopause is also linked with increased risk of cardiovascular mortality and bone loss (3, 6).  To prevent high PFC blood concentration levels, environmental campaigners urged women to reduce their exposure to man-made hormone disrupting chemicals in house hold products (2). Although an association between the onset of menopause and PFC has been shown, further research is necessary to understand the cause and effect correlation (3).

Source: Knox, Sarah S., et al. “Implications of early menopause in women exposed to perfluorocarbons.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 96.6 (2011): 1747-1753.

Copyright © 2011 by The Endocrine Society

Posted August 12, 2011.

References:

  1.  Derbyshire, David. “Could your Saucepans Bring on the Menopause? Chemicals  Found Around the Home Linked to Health Problems”.  Health &Wellness: Sott.net. 24 Mar. 2011.
  2. Heller, Matthew.  “Study Suggests Sticking Blame on Teflon Chemical for Early Menopause”.  News & Notes, Product Hazards and Recalls. 28 Mar. 2011.
  3. Knox, Sarah S., et al. “Implications of Early Menopause in Women Exposed to Perfluorocarbons”.  Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 96(6):0000-0000, June 2011. Posted on The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism website.
  4. “Perfluorochemicals”.  Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  4 Feb. 2011. Posted on the About Health website.
  5.  Stephan, Pam.  “Estrogen Types-Female Hormones-Estrone, Estradiol, Estriol”. About.com-Breast Cancer. 8 Oct. 2007. Posted on the Vibrant Nation website.
  6. Ward, Susan L.  “Hormonal Night Sweats: New Study Links Teflon to Early Menopause”.  Menopause-Vibrant Nation.  30 Mar. 2011. Posted on the Earth Easy website.
  7.  Cox, Stan. “Toxic Teflon: compounds from household products found in human
    Blood”.  Alter-net, Earth Easy. Posted on the Earth Easy website.