Sunday, July 1, 2012

May Drinking Water Cause Early Menopause?

The seemingly stupid question in the post title brings the answer which may surprise you. The answer is YES, after researchers from West Virginia University Department of Community Medicine confirmed that women found to be exposed to high levels of perfluorocarbons (PFCs may be at risk for early menopause.

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What is PFC?

Perfluorocarbons, sometimes referred to as fluorocarbons or PFCs, are organofluorine compounds that contain only carbon and fluorine bonded together in strong carbon­fluorine bonds. Perfluorocarbons have chemical inertness and thermal stability.

Perfluorocarbon liquids are colorless. They have high density, up to over twice that of water, due to their high molecular weight. Very low intermolecular forces give the liquids low viscosities (compared to liquids of similar boiling points), low surface tension and low heats of vaporization. They have particularly low refractive indices too. They are not miscible with most organic solvents (e.g., ethanol, acetone, ethyl acetate and chloroform), but are miscible with some hydrocarbons (e.g., hexane in some cases). They have very low solubility in water, and water has a very low solubility in them (on the order of 10 ppm). However, they are relatively good solvents for gases, again because of the very low intermolecular forces. The number of carbon atoms in the perfluorocarbon molecule largely defines most physical properties. The greater the number of carbon atoms, the higher the boiling point, density, viscosity, surface tension, critical properties, vapor pressure and refractive index. Gas solubility decreases as carbon atoms increase.

PFCs have been historically used in a variety of products found in the household, such as food containers, clothing, furniture, carpeting and paints. Often used to repel stains and for water proofing, PFCs have unfortunately found their way into our water, the air we breathe, the soil, plant life and animals. These chemicals have a long half-life, meaning that their presence in our lives appears to be ubiquitous.

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PFC and Early Menopause

In the latest study, the researchers examined data that had been collected from 25,957 women residing near Parkersburg WV who were between the ages of 18 and 65 and were believed to have been exposed to PFCs via their drinking water. After excluding women who had had hysterectomies, and accounting for factors such as smoking, age, body mass index, alcohol use and physical activity, they found that women with high blood levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) — both types of PFCs — were significantly more likelier to experience menopause at an earlier age than their peers with lower exposure levels. Moreover, exposure to high levels of PFOS in particular appeared to negatively affect concentrations of naturally occurring estrogen (i.e. estradiol), with higher levels of the chemical associated with lower estrogen levels, an event that occurs naturally in menopause as reproductive hormones start to wane.

Premature menopause has been associated with increased risk for a variety of conditions and due diligence is recommended. An increased of heart disease due to declining endogenous estrogen production is probably the most frightening and the one that experts appear to be most worried about. Conversely, women who maintain their estrogen levels for the longest period of times reportedly have a 20% decreased risk of dying from heart disease. And, the researchers point to another often disregarded issue, which is, that “the onset of accelerated decline in ovarian function and menopause is believed to be fixed,” i.e. early menopause equals an accelerated decline in fertility before age 32.

Of note, this study is a cross-sectional study, meaning that the researchers were unable to tease out factors that might affect their findings, such as length of time of exposure, or that PFC concentrations are higher in postmenopausal women because menstrual flow actually eliminates some of the PFC toxin in blood (blood is replaced faster than the toxin) and that since these women are no longer losing blood, the PFC remains.

The substantial interdependence, however, was not found equally in all age groups. A clear relationship was shown between PFC, early menopause, and estradiol levels only in women over 42. In women of childbearing age, a correlation was noted, but not considered statistically significant. There did not appear to be an association in women already well into menopause.

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Not all the members of the scientific community equally embraced the study results. Based on study results, lead researcher Dr. Sarah Knox concluded that while the study does not prove higher PFC levels actually cause earlier menopause, “There is no doubt there is an association between exposure to PFCs and onset of menopause. 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 increased PFC exposure is the natural result of menopause.”

Dr. Josh Bloom from American Council for Science and Health (ACSH) finds this statement to be rather disingenuous. He says, “The authors are clearly implying that PFCs cause menopause by claiming that women with menopause have more PFCs in their blood. But there is an alternate explanation that makes just as much sense: women who have reached menopause are obviously older than those who haven’t and have spent more time using non-stick cookware and therefore have had more exposure to the PFCs over their lifetime. This is just as reasonable an explanation for the findings but is downplayed in the article.” He continues, “Anyhow, people eating at my home should be far more worried about my cooking than the pans.”

“This is an atrocious story, both scientifically and journalistically,” laments ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Liberally throwing the terms ‘gender-bending’ and ‘hormone-disrupting’ around like a juggler, the writer aims not to inform but to alarm readers. The notion that ‘PFCs...cause hormonal changes’ is a thoroughly baseless assertion. To extrapolate from these findings to even an ‘association’ is scientifically baseless — it would be called malpractice if it were medical care. Everyone involved in publicizing this study should be ashamed — Daily Mail, JCEM and the authors.”


Yes, the study might be inconclusive, and the topic requires more research. However, there are no doubts that the PFC excessive consumption might not be good for your health. PFCs have been already linked to thyroid cancer, immune system problems, and heart diseases to various degrees. 

In a another study that evaluated the children and adolescents involved in the C8 Health Project, investigators found increased levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in young people exposed to PFOA and PFOS.

Due to health concerns, the company 3M Chemolite facility in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, halted the production of certain PFCs such as, perfluoroctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) chemicals in Scotchgard consumer products in 2002.  DuPont, manufacture of Teflon, announced in 2000 they planned to phase out the PFC chemicals by 2015.  In 2004, DuPont spent over $100 million to ensure that the water in homes of Ohio and West Virginia residents weren’t contaminated with PFOA.  In that same year, DuPont also agreed to pay $16.5 million to the EPA in fines and support of research and education.

So, researchers produced the following list of recommendations for all individuals, especially women, on how to take precautions to eliminate or at least reduce exposure to PFCs, including:
  • Selecting hardwood floors over stain resistant carpeting in the home.
  • Wearing cotton rather than synthetic clothing.
  • Washing new clothing before wearing.  
  • Using an air popper or stove to make popcorn rather than a microwave.
  • Microwaving food in glass rather than plastic containers.
  • Using cast-iron cookware instead of non-stick coated cookware.
  • Using the most chemical-free personal care products you can find.

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Sources and Additional Information:

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