Selected Podcast

Are Toxins the Reason for Your Early Menopause?

Are Toxins the Reason for Your Early Menopause?
There could be several different reasons you may experience early menopause, but did you know chemicals in the environment could be one of them? In fact, a recent study identified 15 specific chemicals that could be the direct reason for your early menopause.

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis looked at data from 31,575 people who took part in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey from 1999-2008. The study analyzed 1,442 women surveyed who had gone through menopause, an also tested for endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Researchers found that women who had the highest amount of these chemicals in their bodies went through menopause between two and four years earlier than those women with low levels of the chemicals.

What are these 15 chemicals?

Nine of the chemicals identified in the study were polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are widely used to make electrical materials. There are also phthalates, which are very commonly used in shower curtains, garden hoses, toys, medical tubing, rainwear, storage bags, pool liners, floor tiles, and tablecloths.

Amber Cooper, MD, shares the 15 chemicals that could contribute to your early menopause risk, as well as why they are so influential.
Featured Speaker:
Amber Cooper, MD
amber cooper Dr. Amber Cooper is an Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and is board certified in both Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility.

After graduating first in her medical school class, she went on to complete her residency, fellowship and an additional Master of Science in Clinical Investigation at Washington University and then remained on faculty there.

Dr. Cooper has received several awards throughout her training and as a physician-scientist in teaching, clinical care, surgical skills and research. She has ongoing research studies and clinical expertise in the areas of primary ovarian insufficiency (POI/POF), diminished ovarian reserve, genetic and environmental etiologies of ovarian dysfunction, ovarian reserve screens, fertility preservation and the reproductive health of patients with autoimmune disease.

She also has clinical interests in the areas of general infertility, in vitro fertilization, preimplantation genetic diagnoses, recurrent pregnancy loss and reproductive surgery.

RadioMD Presents: HER Radio | Original Air Date: February 26, 2015
Host: Michelle King Robson and Pam Peeke, MD

Dr. Pam Peeke, New York Times best-selling author and founder of the Peeke Performance Center and Michelle King Robson, leading women's advocate, entrepreneur and founder of host the show everyone's talking about. It's time for HER Radio.

PAM: Holy moly! Chemicals are the reason for your early menopause? Could it be?

MICHELLE: I read that.

PAM: You read that.


PAM: You know, it was on NBC News. There was this fabulous study and we have, oh, boy, the expert behind the study, Dr. Amber Cooper, who is going to be helping us understand, are chemicals, indeed, the reason for your early menopause.

Dr. Cooper is an Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Board Certified in OB-GYN and Reproductive Endocrinology and she and her colleagues looked at all kinds of data from over 30,000 people who took part in a huge Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey that went from 1999 to 2008 and, oh, boy!

Dr. Cooper, welcome to HER Radio. Could you tell us the results of that study?

DR. COOPER: Yes. So, thanks for having me. You know, the results of the study and what we found is that 15 specific chemicals stood out and were associated with earlier menopause. By earlier, I mean the average age of menopause, in the United States, at least, is usually around 51 or 51 ½, and, you know, something like smoking that we know is linked to earlier menopause, is usually 1 - 1 ½ years earlier menopause, but we were finding that some of these chemicals were linked to earlier menopause, 2 - 4 plus years earlier. So, a pretty significant finding.

MICHELLE: Very significant. So, can you explain the study to our listeners?

DR. COOPER: Yes. So, this is actually what we call sort of a secondary analysis. It's a large cross-sectional survey in the United States. So, you know, the CDC has been performing something called NHANES, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, for many years which means they're going out every couple of years and randomly sampling 5,000 patients—men, women and children of all different sort of geographic, rural versus urban, socioeconomic, ethnicities, and it's a great study because they're sampling populations of patients that we don't usually get to study. So, we specifically looked over this 10-year period at women and wanted to look at the levels of these environmental chemicals called endocrine disrupting chemicals in their blood and in their urine and look at sort of age at menopause and try to understand what is the association between high levels of every day exposures. So, these aren't experimental conditions, these are every day exposure and age at menopause.

PAM: So, I'm dying to know: what are those chemicals? And where are they hiding?

DR. COOPER: Where are they hiding? So, specifically, the 15 chemicals that we found--and we looked at probably close to 200 chemicals or so in this study. We specifically looked at 111 of them and then we honed in further at chemicals that had either longer half-lives in the environment or shorter half-lives, but we thought there was everyday exposure. For example one of the shorter half-life would be phthalates. You know, phthalates are plasticizers--the things that make our plastics soft. So, the plastic water bottle. It makes the plastic soft and malleable, in a sense. So, phthalates are really everywhere in sort of everyday lives. Personal products, household products. Even in the medical field, you know? IV tubing. But the 15 chemicals that we found, several of which were PCBs. Now, PCBs are sort of a by-product of industrialization and they were actually banned in the United States in 1979, but they still exist because they don't break down. So, they in the soil; they're in the air; they're in the water. You know, we can't really get away from those sorts of chemicals. Hopefully, over time, they'll go away. Hard to tell, but the PCBs, essentially, were about 9 of the 15 chemicals. There were a few pesticides. There was one dioxin and then two phthalates.

You know, I think sort of the hot topic for us to really understand is probably at least the phthalates—something that we have everyday exposure to. I don't think we often realize how much exposure we have. You know, if we microwave on plastic; if we use frozen or packaged foods in plastic; plastic water bottles and, actually, make-up. A lot of household products and things we use for the texture purposes have phthalates in them.

MICHELLE: Right. That I know from creating an app called "SkinSafe" which will be out soon.


MICHELLE: That talks about that. Women don't realize what they're putting on their skin and on their face. It's pretty amazing.


MICHELLE: So, they don't understand that. You know, my next question to you was going to be, "Does it affect other parts of a woman's health?"

DR. COOPER: Right.

MICHELLE: I would imagine the answer is "yes". So tell us what you think about that, Dr. Cooper.

DR. COOPER: Well, you know, a lot of these endocrine disrupting chemicals have been implicated in past studies with cardiovascular health and metabolism or metabolic syndrome, obesity, insulin resistance. You know, with regards to reproductive health, there have been studies looking at age of menarche, when a woman's menstrual cycle starts, but not very much with regard to age at menopause. As someone who takes care of a lot of patients who have infertility and whose ovaries act older than they are at a young age, I've got to believe that something's causing earlier menopause that may be causing an inability or difficulty getting pregnant at an earlier age than we expect.


DR. COOPER: So, like I say, the implications can be significant. Now, this study, in particular, it's probably good to say, with such a cross-sectional design, you can really only say they're "associated with". It's not a study that can really show causation. We need a lot of further studies to really prove a cause and effect but at least showing this association hopefully, raises awareness.

MICHELLE: Exactly. Because that's what we need to do, right? Women need to know this even if the study isn't completely 100% focused on these 15 chemicals and what they absolutely do to the body, they need to understand that they are doing something that's bad.

DR. COOPER: Absolutely.

PAM: Well, so here are the women out there in HER Radioland listening to this and they're saying, "Oh, my gosh! What am I supposed to do here?"

DR. COOPER: Right.

PAM: Now, suddenly they become obsessive label readers and they don't know how in heaven's name...I mean, I'm a physician, you're a physician.

DR. COOPER: Right.

PAM: You know, and Michelle is one of the queens of patient advocacy, and it's difficult to read these labels and make sense of them since most of them look like jet fuel.

DR. COOPER: Right.

PAM: And so, you know, a woman right now is fingering her make-up saying, "Oh, my gosh! Should I be putting this on me?"

DR. COOPER: Right.

PAM: Michelle just brought up body lotion.


PAM: And facial lotions and facial moisturizers. So, how do you help yourself?

DR. COOPER: Yes. I mean, in truth, I think it's very difficult. It's not like how we can pick up a box of cereal and look at the ingredient list. I think that it's hard. You know, I, myself, have scoured all the products and really tried to feel out what it is that's even in the products I'm using and it's very difficult and women, even, who are having babies, they may learn, "Oh, I want to get the PBA-free products," but even if there's not PBA in that product, there's another plasticizer in there.

MICHELLE: Exactly. They don't know the difference.

DR. COOPER: Right.

MICHELLE: They don't know the difference.

DR. COOPER: Right. It's very difficult and I think, hopefully, the more research that's done, the more transparency that products will eventually have to have. I mean, I think from a day to day, I know maybe changes I've made in my life. I don't microwave on plastic anymore. I microwave on glass or paper. I've slowly phased out my children's plastic products, but it's hard. I think it's something that really is in our everyday lives.

PAM: Well, I think this has been an absolutely fascinating segment. Are chemicals the reason for your early menopause? Dr. Amber Cooper from Washington University has helped us understand why she did this study and the results. The answer is, "Yes. These chemicals can influence lots in our lives." And that's what's so important.

Thank you so much, Dr. Cooper.

I'm Dr. Pam Peeke with Michelle King Robson.

MICHELLE: Women, you need to be careful of chemicals, so make sure that you're reading labels. It's very difficult to do, but you still need to do it.

You're listening to HER Radio on RadioMD. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. Stay well.