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For the record

Can PCBs and phthalates be linked to premature menopause? Image

Can PCBs and phthalates be linked to premature menopause?

On 24th October 2012 articles in the Daily Mail, the Times, and the Telegraph, linked exposure to polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) and phthalates to earlier onset of the menopause. These articles were based on unpublished research presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference which has not been peer reviewed. Peer review is the system used to assess the originality, validity and significance of research prior to publication, as explained in I don’t know what to believe...

The Times stated “chemicals found everywhere from plastic bottles and cleaning products to make-up and pesticides appear to interfere with women’s reproductive systems”. The Daily Mail reported “Those exposed to high doses have been found to go through the change almost two and a half years before other women”. Here, Professor Richard Sharpe and Dr John Hoskins puts the claims in context.

Professor Richard Sharpe, MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, University of Edinburgh:

“Demonstrating an ‘association’ between exposure to PCBs or phthalates and earlier age of menopause does not prove that the former causes the latter; indeed, it is not clear how this would occur in adult women based on the known effects of these chemicals. However, if there is cause and effect between exposure to PCBs and phthalates and earlier menopause, it will be important to follow this up via studies specifically designed for this purpose and to identify when and how such effects might occur.”

Dr John Hoskins, independent toxicologist:

“The report that exposure to phthalate esters in household chemical, cosmetics and other products as well as PCBs cause reproductive problems was presented at a scientific conference so is a long way from a peer-reviewed study. The results should therefore be treated with caution particularly as they do not align with an enormous number of peer-reviewed papers produced over several decades.

“Phthalate esters are widely used. They have been subjected to extensive testing to determine their impact on health and the environment. From this testing a small number have been found to have effects on the reproductive systems in rodents at high doses. Phthalate esters from this group are not permitted for use in food packaging, toys and other things which could be placed in the mouth. The compounds do not accumulate in people. Any that get into the body are rapidly metabolised and the products excreted. In the environment they are readily biodegradable and do not persist. PCBs are no longer used but are persistent chemicals and linger in the environment.”

Document type: For The Record

Published: 24 October 2012


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