Chemicals and the Menopause

By Dr Ornella Cappellari

Today, we are surrounded by chemical agents everywhere.

From the environment to cosmetics to cleaning products in our houses, chemicals represent a potential danger to our hormonal/endocrine system. There is a lot of research that links Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) to an earlier onset of menopause.

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals are chemicals that can interfere with human hormones in the body. Some EDCs mimic natural hormones by binding the target cell receptor (binding occurs when a hormone attaches to a cell receptor, that is a part of the cell designed to respond to that specific hormone). EDCs can start the same processes that the natural hormone would start. Other EDCs instead block normal hormone binding and thereby prevent the effects of the natural hormones. Still other EDCs can directly interfere with the production, storage, release, transport, or elimination of natural hormones in the body. This can greatly affect the function of certain body systems.

Between the EDCs we can find pesticides, plasticizers and sometimes natural chemicals found in plants. Menopause has been found to occur 2.5 years earlier in women that have been exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and 2.3 years earlier in women that have been exposed to phthalates. PCBs were banned in 1979 but can still be found in older products. Phthalates are found in many plastic products and in many cosmetics.

We can find EDCs in the following products:

  • Cosmetics
  • Household products
  • Environmental pollutants

Each of these play an important role as we are exposed to them daily.

Cosmetics

Cosmetics contain a vast number of chemicals. Most of them are not under the FDA or any other regulations. Everything that claims to prevent a disease or alter the body in any way is subject to regulations as it is considered a drug. Cosmetics are not. Up to now only 11 chemicals has been highlighted to have damaging effects on health. Among them we find: parabens, phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and siloxanes. But what are they called and what are they used for?

  • Butylated hydroxyanisole is a preservative
  • Alpha Hydroxy acid is a skin plasticizer
  • Beta Hydroxy acid is a skin exfoliant
  • Coal tar dyes are a color dye
  • Diethanolamine compounds are emulsifiers, foaming agents and pH adjusters
  • Parabens are cosmetic preservatives
  • Phthalates are fixatives (used to stabilise the components) in fragrances and solvents
  • Polyethylene glycol compounds, are used as a cream base and increases the permeability of skin to cosmetics
  • Siloxanes are used to soften, smooth, and moisten cosmetics
  • Triclosan is a preservative and anti-bacterial agent

Other EDCs found in most common cosmetics are:

Formaldehyde, which is a well-known carcinogen that can dissolve in water and in air (think of the strong smell nail polish). Exposure to this chemical can also produce symptoms like a scratchy throat, asthma, and difficulty breathing.

Toluene which is known to impede development in children (and some scientists found traces of it in breast milk) can be irritating to the skin upon exposure.

Dibutyl Phthalate. Some nail polish brands swap this phthalate for TPHP (Triphenyl Phosphate), but it’s no better for your health. In fact, it possesses similar health risks such as hormonal disruption and reproductive system toxins.

Most of the cosmetics we use contain some of the described chemicals. It is pivotal to read the label carefully and discard/avoid any products in which the composition is not stated. More and more studies have found that exposure to those chemicals can lead to premature menopause and other significant hormonal changes during our life.

Household Cleaning Products

When it comes to household cleaning products, we find that there is no standard, enforceable definition of a “non-toxic” or “environmentally friendly” household cleaner. The detrimental part about household products is that manufacturers don’t need to list everything that they put in their products, so it’s not easy to find hidden substances. For example, flame retardant chemicals (PBDE, polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are used in many common household products. Research shows that these chemicals escape from electronics, couches, and baby products and collect in your household dust. Phthalates are a class of chemicals typically found in fragrances. Fortunately, a fragrance isn’t necessary for a product to function well or be effective. It is possible to choose fragrance-free products. It is important to check ingredient labels to find out where else fragrance lurks; it can show up also in nappies or garbage bags.

Other chemicals include: Bisphenol A (BPA), which lines food cans made of tin; phthalates, which are used when manufacturing plastic food containers; and pesticides such as chlorpyrifos and organophosphates.

Environmental Pollutants

The additional problem with environmental pollutants is that they are difficult to avoid. Sometimes we are exposed and we are not even aware of it. It is important to be aware of their potential sources, including plastics in food packaging (BPA, bisphenol A, is one of the biggest EDC). Furans are by-products that we are mainly exposed to through animal products like dairy and fatty fish. They are released into the environment mostly through toxic waste incinerators.

To conclude the only power we have against excessive exposure to dangerous chemical is to try to keep ourselves informed, read all labels carefully and avoid brands that do not provide a full list of ingredients.

SOURCES

Post Reprod Health. 2015 Mar;21(1):5-6.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals associated with earlier menopause. Brown S. Fertil Steril. 2016 Sep 15;106(4):978-90. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2016.08.020. Epub 2016 Aug 18.

Cosmetics use and age at menopause: is there a connection? Chow ET1, Mahalingaiah S2.

Persistent Organic Pollutants and Early Menopause in U.S. Women. Natalia M. Grindler, Jenifer E. Allsworth, George A. Macones, Kurunthachalam Kannan, Kimberly A. Roehl, Amber R. Cooper

Household Chemicals Linked to Earlier Menopause. Sarah Bruyn Jones Feb 13, 2015 Menopause, Infertility

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