How to Avoid Chemicals that Cause Early Menopause

Originally published in a 1950 edition of Popular Mechanics

The other day I was talking on the phone to a woman in her early 30s who has been trying to conceive for four years. She said her husband has been tested and is fine, and that the doctor tested her FSH and LH levels, and they were fine. She and her husband decided to do a hormone profile blood spot test, and it showed that, mid-cycle, all of her hormones except testosterone were quite low. I asked what she does for a living, and she replied that she’s a sewer, as in sewing clothes, curtains, tablecloths and other household items. Because of the recent news that PFCs can cause early menopause, I asked if they use stain-resisting products to protect the fabric. “Yes,” she answered, “We spray them on the fabrics almost every day!” Cause and effect? Could be.

We’ve known for years that the chemicals called perfluorocarbons (PFCs) can cause thyroid disorders, infertility, pregnancy disorders, low birth weight and at high levels, liver damage and birth defects. They are suspected to play a role in the ever-increasing rate of reproductive abnormalities occurring across the food chain, from frogs to humans. The European Union is phasing out these types of chemicals, but as usual, the U.S. lags behind.

PFCs are found in the tissues of virtually all humans on the planet, and likely most living creatures, and have multiple damaging effects on health, particularly on hormone balance. They are so widespread because they are very useful in manufacturing a wide range of products, and because they take a very long time to go away. For example, PFCs are used to coat the surfaces of hundreds of products because they are both oil- and water-resistant.

PFCs and Early Menopause

Now a study published by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism suggests that PFCs can also contribute to early menopause. This was a large study with more than 26,000 women between the ages of 42 and 64, and it found that, “… the higher the perfluorocarbons, the earlier the menopause.” Women who have early menopause have a higher risk of heart disease and bone loss.

Buyer be Aware of Chemical Shell Games

PFCs are a subgroup of unregulated chemicals known as perfluoroalkylated substances (PFASs). The most studied PFCs are perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). I only bring up these technical terms by way of pointing out that when chemical companies want to defend their PFAS products, they tend to point out that their product doesn’t contain the specific PFAS studied, it contains another one, which hasn’t been proven to have the same effects. Hundreds of PFAS degrade to PFCs.

The manufacturer of Scotchgard™, 3M®, which added millions of pounds of PFOS into the environment as it made Scotchgard a household name, phased out its PFOS products in 2000 under pressure from the EPA, but according to an article in Wikipedia, now uses perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS) which has a much shorter half-life in the human body. Do a woman’s ovaries or a developing fetus care whether the chemical wreaking hormone havoc is there for a month or five years? Unlikely. The story is similar for Dupont® and Teflon®, the nonstick coating, as well as other brands of nonstick coating. It’s a shell game. Buyer be aware.

Types of Products that Contain PFAS
Non-stick cookware (released into the air at high temperatures)
Stain-resistant materials
Water-resistant materials
Fire-resistant materials
Plastic containers
Food packaging
Cleaning products
Personal care products (cosmetics, shampoos, gels, etc)

Yikes. Looks as if this stuff is everywhere. But we can still minimize our exposure by avoiding the obvious, such as stain-resistant products and nonstick cookware. Processed and frozen foods that come in containers where you only need to puncture the plastic covering and pop it in the microwave? If you must microwave and eat those foods, at least put them in a safe container, meaning glass or ceramic. Good luck finding a couch or carpet that isn’t stain-resistant, but if enough people start asking, the industries will change. Wash new clothing before wearing. Use the most chemical-free personal care products you can find. If there’s a “…fluoro…” something on the label, don’t buy it.

This study on early menopause is yet another reason to be a wide awake and aware consumer, and to go green as much as possible.

More Information

Xenohormones and Your Health by John R. Lee, MD and Virginia Hopkins

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) as always, is a good source for finding clean personal care products.

Benninghoff AD, Bisson WH, Koch DC, “Estrogen-like activity of perfluoroalkyl acids in vivo and interaction with human and rainbow trout estrogen receptors in vitro,” Toxicol Sci. 2011 Mar;120(1):42-58. Epub 2010 Dec 16.

Jensen AA, Leffers H, “Emerging endocrine disrupters: perfluoroalkylated substances,” Int J Androl. 2008 Apr;31(2):161-9.

Knox SS, Jackson T, Javins B et al, “Implications of Early Menopause in Women Exposed to Perfluorocarbons,” J Clin Endocrinol Metab published March 16, 2011.

Melzer D, Rice N, Depledge MH et al, “Association between serum perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and thyroid disease in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey,” Environ Health Perspect. 2010 May;118(5):686-92. Epub 2010 Jan 7.

Post to Twitter