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Man-made chemicals found in a variety of everyday products – from food containers to clothes – may be causing early menopause in women, say scientists.
A study of almost 26,000 – the largest of its kind – found those with high levels of PFCs (perfluorocarbons) were more likely to have gone through the change of life prematurely.
Dr Sarah Knox, of the West Virginia University School of Medicine, said: "There is no doubt that there is an association between exposure to PFCs and onset of menopause, but the causality is unclear.
"Part of the explanation could be that women in these age groups have higher PFC levels because they are no longer losing PFCs with menstrual blood anymore.
"But it is still clinically disturbing because it would imply that increased PFC exposure is the natural result of menopause."
The study to be published in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found higher levels of PFCs were associated with increased odds of having experienced menopause in women between 42 to 64.
Women in this age group with more PFCs also had much less of the sex hormone oestrogen compared to those who had low levels which are also found in furniture, carpets and paints.
Their broad use has led to widespread circulation in water, air, soil, plant life, animals and humans – even in remote parts of the world.
A probability sample of adults in the US found measurable concentrations of PFCs in 98 per cent of those tested.
Dr Knox said: "The current study is the largest ever to be done on the endocrine (hormone)-disrupting effects of perfluorocarbons in human women.
"Our data shows after controlling for age, women of peri-menopausal and menopausal age in this large population are more likely to have experienced menopause if they have higher serum concentrations of PFCs than their counterparts with lower levels."
In the study of 18 to 65-year-old women researchers ascertained the menopausal status of the participants and then measured their serum concentration levels of PFCs and oestradiol.
They found an association between PFC exposure, decreased oestradiol and early menopause in women over age 42.
The higher the PFC levels in women of child bearing age the lower their oestrogen also but this link was not statistically significant.
PFCs are known to have multiple adverse health outcomes including increased cardiovascular risk and impairment of the immune system.
Dr Knox said: "Our findings suggest PFCs are associated with endocrine disruption in women and that further research on mechanisms is warranted."