During that miserable time of the month, you might be dreaming about the day when periods are no longer a part of your life. But the reality is that menopause, though totally normal, can come with an increased risk of osteoporosis, vaginal dryness, and other health issues that might make you miss your Aunt Flo.
And while there is roughly a 100 percent chance that you’ll go through menopause in the future, when “the change” occurs depends on a range of factors. Unfortunately, scientists have added another possible influencer into the mix: common chemicals you might come in contact on the regular.
In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers analyzed data from a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey that looked at the health habits and lifestyle choices of 1,442 menopausal women older than 30 from 1999 to 2008. All of the women surveyed underwent blood and urine tests to assess the endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or chemicals thought to mess with your hormones, in their bodies.
After studying the data, the researchers found that women with the highest levels of those chemicals in their systems experienced menopause 1.9 to 3.8 years earlier than the other women. According to the study, that’s more than the early menopause-inducing effect of tobacco smoke—which previous research has associated with bringing on 0.8 to 1.4 years earlier.
So why are these chemicals correlated with wreaking havoc on your lady business? Amber Cooper, M.D., lead study author and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University, says that endocrine-disrupting chemicals can attach themselves to hormones and hormone-producing organs (like your ovaries) and ensue chaos. We don’t know exactly how or why this happens, though.
While these results may seem pretty scary, Cooper says this research only associates these chemicals with early menopause and that hopefully this study will spark more research to pinpoint major sources of these nasty chemicals.
In the meantime, Cooper says to try to reduce your exposure to chemicals by microwaving on paper or glass instead of plastic and avoiding reusing disposable plastic water bottles. Other than that, she says it’s hard to say what else can put a major dent in the chemicals you come in contact with until more research can be done. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she says.