A new study from the University of Michigan suggests exposure to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, a group of widely used human-made chemicals, might contribute to women reaching menopause two years earlier than average. 

Early menopause can significantly impact women’s health, as it is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular, neurological and psychiatric diseases, osteoporosis and overall mortality.

“PFAS are everywhere,” said lead study author Ning Ding in a statement. “Once they enter the body, they don’t break down and build up over time. ... Because of their persistence in humans and potentially detrimental effects on ovarian function, it is important to raise awareness of this issue and reduce exposure to these chemicals.”

What are PFAS?

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances are often described as “forever chemicals” and include more than 3,000 synthetic chemicals composed of carbon and fluorine bonds, which resist water, oil, grease, heat and stains.   

Manufactured globally since the 1940s, PFAS are found in countless everyday items like food packaging, clothing, cleaning products, paint, textiles, nonstick cookware and electronics. 

Despite their wide range of uses, many chemicals in this group have become cause for concern. Their inability to break down in the environment has contaminated crop soil and drinking water sources, and exposure has led to adverse health effects in humans, including thyroid and immune system disruption, weight gain and cancer.

Study specifics

The study, published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, followed ethnically diverse premenopausal women from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, a 17-year-long prospective study of 1,120 women.

Of the 1,120 subjects, 578 women had a natural incident menopause and were included in the analysis. Exposure levels were determined via blood samples. 

This particular study measured baseline blood PFAS levels. According to the study, previous epidemiological studies of PFAS and menopause were limited by reverse causation, meaning the women in those studies might have had higher PFAS concentrations because they were not releasing PFAS via menstrual blood.

Results showed women with high PFAS exposure reached menopause earlier than those with lower levels, and mixtures of multiple PFAS had greater effect on ovarian aging.