It’s become increasingly well-known that a variety of consumer products, including nonstick cookware, pizza boxes and stain repellents, have long been manufactured with a class of potentially harmful man-made chemicals known as PFAS (short for the tongue-twister per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). These chemicals also have been found in contaminated drinking water.

Even though word has spread about PFAS’ potential dangers and their use in manufacturing has declined, they are “forever chemicals” that do not break down over time. Most people in the US have been exposed to PFAS. These chemicals have been linked to a range of health problems, including elevated cholesterol levels, negative effects on the immune system, liver damage, high blood pressure and increased risk for certain types of cancer, such as kidney and testicular.

Now: Research has revealed yet another concern about PFAS. High levels of these chemicals can accumulate in women’s bodies and may cause menopause to occur earlier than usual. This can be significant because earlier menopause may affect women’s heart and bone health and possibly lead to quality-of-life issues that are more common after menopause. The median age of menopause of women living in industrialized countries is 50 to 52.

Study details: To investigate PFAS levels in women, researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health used data from 1,120 midlife, premenopausal women who were enrolled in a 17-year study called the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation.

After blood samples were taken, the study participants were divided into four groups based on their PFAS levels—low, low-medium, medium-high and high. Women with high levels of PFAS had a 63% greater risk of earlier menopause compared with those who had low levels of the chemicals in their blood.

For women with high PFAS levels, menopause occurred two years earlier, on average, than in women with low levels, according to the study, which was published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.  

Takeaway: While efforts have been made to reduce the use of PFAS in manufacturing, it is virtually impossible to completely avoid it. Exposure to PFAS most often occurs through contaminated drinking water. Eating fish that live in contaminated water is another way that people can be exposed to PFAS. To avoid these possible sources of exposure, check with your local or state health and environmental quality departments for PFAS water contamination or fish advisories in your area. 

Source: Study titled “Associations of Perfluoroalkyl Substances with Incident Natural Menopause: The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation,” led by researchers at University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

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