A recent US research study is changing the way that scientists think about menopause

The serum levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were analysed in more than 1100 women in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) Multi-Pollutant Study (MPS).

Amongst the national sample of women in their mid-40s to mid-50s, those who had high serum levels in their PFAS were more likely to enter menopause earlier than those who tested for lower levels of the chemicals.

PFAS chemicals, of which there are more than 5000, are found in food packaging, food processing, stain- and water-resistant fabrics, carpeting, cleaning products, paints, and firefighting foam.

Most people come into PFAS chemicals on a daily basis

On average, the women with higher PFAS levels entered menopause two years sooner, with a median age of natural menopause of 50.8 for the women with higher serum levels. The women with lower serum levels entered menopause at a median age of 52.8. The study did not include women with premature menopause (younger than age 40) or early menopause (younger than age 45).

Ning Ding, PhD and MPH of the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, explains the significance of the results. “This study suggests that select PFAS serum concentrations are associated with earlier natural menopause, a risk factor for adverse health outcomes in later life.” Along with her colleagues, she published a peer-reviewed article in the June 3rd online edition of the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

In a supplementary statement, senior author Sung Kyun Park, ScD, MPH, also of the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, says, “even menopause a few years earlier than usual could have a significant impact on cardiovascular and bone health, quality of life, and overall health in general among women.

So, what does this mean?

Simply put, the study seems to show that PFAS chemicals do not degrade in our bodies. Instead, they build up over time and interfere with our hormones. As a result, PFAS have been nicknamed the “forever chemicals,” because they do not break down over time.

According to an Endocrine Society press release, it is estimated that up to 110 million Americans are currently drinking PFAS contaminated household water.

Ding stressed, “PFAS are everywhere. Once they enter the body, they don’t break down and [they] build up over time. Because of their persistence in humans and potentially detrimental effects on ovarian function, it is important to raise awareness of this issue and reduce exposure to these chemicals.”

In addition to a decline in fertility, earlier menopause also puts women at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis

As for the adverse side effects of PFAS chemicals, the exact toll of these chemicals may not be fully understood until decades from now.

In the meantime, avoid the following to limit your exposure to PFAS:

  • food packaging, especially fast-food wrappers and microwave popcorn
  • stain-resistant furniture and carpets
  • non-stick pots and pans
  • clothing and tents coated in a waterproof coating
  • ski wax
  • firefighting foams
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