We live in a world inundated with chemicals in our food, air, personal care products, makeup, cooking utensils, furniture, building materials, and clothing. Avoiding them is impossible, but it is realistic to reduce our exposure to them. When it comes to perimenopause and menopause, more and more women are realizing that these common chemicals are associated with uncommon effects.
You cannot live in a protective bubble, but you can proceed with your eyes wide open and identify some of the more prolific chemicals, where they are most often found, and thus how you can avoid them as much as possible.
Although we are surrounded by chemicals in every aspect of our lives, few have been studied for their potential harmful health effects. According to a recent report in Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Reproductive Disorders, the chemicals that have been evaluated for such impacts include parabens, phthalates, siloxanes, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
However, the same report notes that a review of highlighted chemicals and of the ingredients in popular beauty products found 11 chemicals and chemical families that are worrisome, including the four already mentioned as well as coal tar dyes, talc/asbestos, triclosan, butylated hydroxyanisole/butylated hydroxytoluene, diethanolamine, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, and 1,4-dioxane.
Chemicals and menopause
The age at menopause can be impacted by many factors, including disruption of endocrine function. Many of the chemicals just named have that ability, which suggests use of products that contain them, including cosmetics and personal care products, may have a role in menopause age. The study’s authors noted that “What little data there are suggest that future studies are warranted,” and that “Women with chronic and consistent use of cosmetics across their lifespan may be a population of concern.”
In a 2021 paper from researchers at the University of Toronto, the authors reported that many common cosmetic products contain polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that have been associated with significant health risks, including problems with fertility, immune dysfunction, and disrupted metabolism.
After the authors examined 231 cosmetic products, they noted that many had high levels of fluorine, which strongly indicates the presence of PFAS. These synthetic chemicals are also found in our drinking water as well as textiles, food packaging, and cookware.
Chemicals and premenopause
The potential for harm from common chemicals to the reproductive system and hormonal balance may begin even before perimenopause and menopause. In a 2018 study, a group of scientists looked at the effect of bisphenol A (BPA), chlorophenols, benzophenones, and parabens on the reproductive hormones in 143 premenopausal women over a two-month period.
At the end of the study period, the researchers found that one or more of the chemicals increased and/or decreased levels of the hormones monitored, which included estradiol, progesterone, luteinizing hormone, and follicle stimulating hormone. The authors concluded that “such changes could contribute to adverse health in women.”
What happens when you combine chemicals
We don’t typically experience chemical exposure individually. Rather, we are exposed to multiple toxins throughout the day, and over time those chemicals can accumulate in the body. What impact does this gathering effect have?
In 2013, a group of scientists looked at the possible effect of estradiol in the body when exposed to low concentrations of hormone-disrupting chemicals (xenoestrogens) over time. They concluded that mixtures of xenoestrogens “can have dramatic disrupting effects on hormonal mechanisms of cell regulation” and change the “cellular responses to physiologic [produced naturally by the body] estrogens.”
How to avoid hormone altering chemicals
For women in perimenopause or menopause…or women at any stage of life…it is best to avoid exposure to xenoestrogens and other chemicals that can alter estrogen (including estradiol), progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone levels. Therefore it is recommended that you:
- Only use natural personal care products and cosmetics that are free of chemicals, including fragrances. You may also consider making your own cosmetics or household cleaning products
- Do not dry clean your clothes
- Use glass, stainless steel, or ceramic water bottles rather than plastic
- Avoid all exposure to pesticides and hormones by choosing organic, locally grown foods, not treating your garden or lawn with pesticides, and avoiding meats and dairy products that contain hormones
- Do not use non-stick cookware (such as Teflon)
- Use ceramic or plastic food and beverage storage containers rather than plastic
- Choose green household cleaning products, such as white vinegar, baking soda, lemon, and borax
- Select chlorine-free tampons and menstrual pads, toilet paper, coffee filters, and paper towels
- Consider taking supplements such as diindolylmethane (DIM) or indole-3-carbinole (I3C), which helps detox the body and improves elimination of excess estrogen
Our world is populated with many chemicals in everyday products and foods that have the potential to disrupt your hormone balance. Such an imbalance is disturbing at any time in your life, but especially during perimenopause and menopause. Take steps to minimize your exposure to xenoestrogens and other chemicals that can disrupt your lifestyle.