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  • Posted January 26, 2024

Toxic Metals Could Harm a Woman's Ovaries

Exposure to toxic heavy metals could cause middle-aged women to have more health problems as they grow older, a new study finds.

The study links toxic metal exposure to women having fewer eggs in their ovaries as they approach menopause.

This condition -- known as diminished ovarian reserve -- could cause worse health problems during menopause and afterwards, researchers say.

"Widespread exposure to toxins in heavy metals may have a big impact on health problems linked to earlier aging of the ovaries in middle-aged women, such as hot flashes, bone weakening and osteoporosis, higher chances of heart disease and cognitive decline,” said researcher Sung Kyun Park, an associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan.

Women with higher levels of heavy metals in their urine -- including arsenic, cadmium, mercury or lead -- tended to have lower blood levels of a reproductive hormone called Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), according to the study published Jan. 25 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

AMH levels correspond to the number of eggs a woman has in her ovaries. Higher levels mean more eggs, while lower levels mean fewer eggs.

“AMH tells us roughly how many eggs are left in a woman's ovaries -- it's like a biological clock for the ovaries that can hint at health risks in middle age and later in life,” Park said in a journal news release.

These new findings jibe with previous studies that have linked heavy metals with women's reproductive aging and diminished ovarian reserve, the researchers noted.

Heavy metals are common contaminants in drinking water, food and polluted air, researchers said. They are considered endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can affect human reproduction.

For the new study, researchers analyzed urine samples and blood tests taken from nearly 550 middle-aged women. The AMH blood test data went up to 10 years before the women entered menopause.

“Metals, including arsenic and cadmium, possess endocrine-disrupting characteristics and may be potentially toxic to the ovaries,” Park said. “We need to study the younger population as well, to fully understand the role of chemicals in diminished ovarian reserve and infertility.”

More information

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has more about reproductive aging in women.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, news release, Jan. 25, 2024

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