KANSAS CITY, Mo -- Chemicals have long been linked to cancer. But a new study, done in part by a Kansas City researcher, finds women with higher levels of some chemicals in their bodies go through menopause earlier.
They're chemicals in plastics, pesticides, make-up and other personal care and household products. Some have been banned.
"They linger for such a long period of time," said Dr. Jenifer Allsworth, an epidemiologist at the UMKC School of Medicine.
She says they linger in the soil and air and in our bodies. Dr. Allsworth and other researchers looked at 110 chemicals known to interact with the body's endocrine system.
"We found there were 15 chemicals that potentially change the age of menopause. They made it two to four years earlier," she said.
Women with the highest levels of the chemicals in their bodies went through menopause up to four years earlier than those with the lowest levels.
Early menopause is a problem for women delaying childbearing, but it also raises the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
The chemicals linked to early menopause included 9 PCBs and 3 pesticides that have been banned, and two phthalates found in plastics that have not been banned. Dr. Allsworth says reading labels won't necessarily help you avoid them.
"These chemicals are stored in the body in different forms than they are put in the products. We really need to be pushing for more information about what the chemicals are," she said.
The researchers didn't provide advice to women on reducing exposure, but Dr. Allsworth did offer this.
"Personally, I try to avoid heating plastics. I avoid heating my foods in plastic materials," she said.
She also says she uses pesticides sparingly.
The research is published in the online journal PLOS ONE. Dr. Allsworth says it doesn't prove that some chemicals cause early menopause, only that there is an association that needs to be further investigated.