It was Benjamin Franklin who famously said, "The only things certain in life are death and taxes." Women can add a third certainty to that list: menopause. There is no way around this body change that marks an end to a woman's fertility.
For women like Olathe resident Michele Zook, menopause means learning to deal with an array of unpleasant symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbances and mood swings.
"It's crappy. It's disruptive. It's unpredictable. It sucks," Zook said.
Zook's menopause kicked in at the expected time, her early 50s.
She is being treated by obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Danielle Staecker, a University of Kansas Hospital physician who's been practicing medicine for two decades. In the last few years, Staecker says she's noticed a shift in the women she sees for menopause.
"I'm definitely seeing more women having symptoms of menopause at an earlier age," Staecker said.
Research conducted at Washington University in St. Louis is providing a possible first clue to those increased cases of early menopause.
Dr. Amber Cooper and a team of researchers studied the blood and urine samples of 5,708 women, looking at more than 100 different chemicals. They were able to make an association between women in early menopause and elevated levels of phthalates, man-made chemicals known to mimic estrogen.
"If you had the highest level of exposure in these categories you could have menopause on average two to three years earlier," Cooper said.
The phthalates were absorbed into the body from the very products women use to make them look more beautiful.
"They're (phthalates) found everywhere," Cooper said. "They're found in personal care products that we use, from cosmetics to shampoos to lotions to nail polish. They're all throughout our house."
Both Staecker and Cooper say cosmetics are just one of a thousand places where women come into contact with phthalates.
"Most people probably have a low level of these in their blood or urine all the time," pointed out Cooper. "So it's hard to avoid some of the chemicals."
The doctors say plastics are much bigger culprits. High levels of phthalates are used to make water bottles and food packaging more flexible and durable.
"We're just at the tip of the iceberg in understanding the relationship between phthalate levels and menopause," said Staecker.
The results of Cooper's initial study on endocrine-disrupting chemicals and ovarian health should be finalized within the month. In phase two, the Washington University researcher hopes to be able to identify the exact chemicals triggering reproductive changes.
"We're specifically looking at each chemical in each of these subcategories to figure out really where the problem lies and then I think we can look deeper into the association," Cooper said.
If you are concerned about the safety of your cosmetics, Cooper suggests replacing products more often. She says the older the makeup, the greater the odds of it breaking down and leaching out chemicals like phthalates.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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