Menopause is a natural part of the aging process for women. But for some of us, that process might start sooner than normal due to our exposure to certain chemicals.
According to a new study from the Washington University School of Medicine, women with high levels of certain chemicals reached menopause two to four years earlier than women with lower levels of those same chemicals.
Menopause is defined as the time when a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months. The average age most women have their last period is 51 years old. But some women stop having periods in their forties while others have periods well into their fifties.
Menopause occurs due to the natural decline in the body’s production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause that occurs as hormone levels begin to decline.
Some medical procedures such as a hysterectomy to remove the uterus can result in menopause because periods are not possible after the uterus is gone.
However, you may not have symptoms of menopause unless your ovaries were removed as well. Removal of both ovaries results in menopause because estrogen is produced by the ovaries.
Smoking is also known to affect the onset of menopause. Women who smoke are more likely to reach menopause at a younger age.
Researchers working on the study tracked blood and urine levels of 111 chemicals that are believed to affect the production and distribution of hormones in women. According to the Washington University study, some of these chemicals are linked to a younger onset of menopause.
"Chemicals linked to earlier menopause may lead to an early decline in ovarian function, and our results suggest we as a society should be concerned," senior author Dr. Amber Cooper, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, said in a news release.
The chemicals included in the study were mostly man-made substances. They included known reproductive toxins and chemicals that are known to take more than a year to break down.