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Lead exposure reported to produce earlier menopause

Early menopause is associated with several adverse health outcomes such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease
Early menopause is associated with several adverse health outcomes such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease
Robin Wulffson, M.D.

Menopause is an inevitable occurrence as a woman ages; however, early menopause is associated with several adverse health outcomes such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the county; the second leading cause of death is stroke. Thus, women who have an earlier menopause are at increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. A new study published in the March edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives reported that lead exposure was related to an earlier menopause

The study authors note that lead exposure adversely effects the reproductive function of humans and animals. Therefore, they conducted a study to evaluate the association between cumulative lead exposure and age at natural menopause. The researchers accessed data from the Nurses’ Health Study. Self-reported menopausal status and bone lead concentration measured with K-shell X-ray fluorescence, which is a biomarker of cumulative lead exposure, were obtained from 434 women participants. The bone lead concentrations were measured in the tibia, which is one of the two lower leg bones.

The researchers found that the average age at natural menopause was 50.8 ± 3.6 years. A younger age at menopause was related to a higher tibia lead level. The average age of menopause for women in the highest tertile (one third) of tibia lead was 1.21 years younger than for women in the lowest tertile. The number of cases was small (23 women), the odds ratio for early menopause (younger than 45 years of age) was a 5.30-fold increased risk for women in the highest tertile of tibia lead compared with those in the lowest tertile. The investigators found no association between patella (knee cap) or blood lead and age at menopause.

The authors concluded that their results suggested an association between low-level cumulative lead exposure and an earlier age at menopause. In addition, the data suggested that low-level lead exposure may contribute to menopause-related health outcomes in older women via the effects on age at menopause.

One of the most common sources of lead exposure is house paint. Any home built before 1978 could have lead paint. Homes built before 1960 have the most lead paint. Lead paint in good condition usually is not a problem; however, dangerous lead dust can be released from peeling or damaged paint or by sanding or scraping paint in older homes. Thus, when working on or remodeling a home with lead paint, one must exercise extreme caution regarding inhaling or coming in contact with the material.

Other sources of lead exposure are:

  • Handmade ceramic tableware, especially imported ceramics decorated with lead-based glaze or paint
  • Traditional home remedies including Azarcon, Greta, and Pay-loo-ah;
  • Traditional cosmetics including Kohl and Surma
  • Some imported toys and jewelry
  • Some imported candies and food products
  • Work clothes, shoes, and workers exposed to lead on the job. A few of the jobs with exposure to lead are painting, construction, gardening, making or recycling batteries, and repairing radiators.

The study authors are affiliated with Harvard School of Public Health (Boston, Massachusetts), Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana), University of Michigan School of Public Health (Ann Arbor, Michigan), and Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School (Boston, Massachusetts).