Endometriosis is a female health disorder that causes intense pelvic pain, cramping, excessive menstrual bleeding, painful intercourse, and even infertility. It occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus — the endometrium — grows instead on the outside of the uterus. This displaced tissue then thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle, eventually causing tears and scar tissue to develop. Until recently, the cause of this painful condition was unknown. But, as noted in the article Women at risk: Health problems linked to environmental estrogens
by Lindsey Konkel, several new studies are finally backing up the decades-old theory that chemical exposure may play a role in the development of its development.
In the first study
, two groups of women in the Salt Lake City and San Francisco areas were selected to participate. One group of women had pelvic pain while the other experienced no symptoms at all. Researchers found that regardless of their symptoms, the women were more likely to be diagnosed with endometriosis if they had high levels of the estrogen-like pesticide hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) in their blood than women with low levels. HCH is the by-product of an insecticide that has been banned in the U.S. for more than three decades. Still, it persists in the environment and can still be found in food supplies.
In a similar study
published in Environmental Science and Technology
, women with the highest concentration of a sunscreen chemical called, benzophenone in their urine had a 19 percent higher risk of endometriosis than women with the lowest levels.
And finally, an Italian study
found that women with two banned chlorinated chemicals in their blood stream– polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or residue of the insecticide DDT, were diagnosed with endometriosis more often than those with lower levels.
What do all of these chemicals have in common? They are all hormone-disrupting chemicals known to alter estrogen levels in a woman's body.
More research is definitely needed to determine when, why, and how these chemicals affect the body. But for the first time, researchers are considering it likely that hormone-disrupting chemicals are the root cause of endometriosis and other female reproductive conditions.