Pesticides Linked To Endometriosis
November 6, 2013

Two Pesticides Linked To Endometriosis Risk

Rebekah Eliason for – Your Universe Online

A new study from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has discovered certain pesticides are linked to a higher risk for endometriosis, a condition that involves the abnormal growth of uterine cells and affects as many as ten percent of women of reproductive age. In particular, women who experienced higher exposure to two organochlorine pesticides, beta-hexachlorocyclohexane and mirexm, were shown to have an increased risk for developing endometriosis by 30-70 percent.

Endometriosis occurs when cells from the lining of the uterus begin to grow outside of the womb onto other organs of the body. This is a noncancerous condition that often causes chronic pelvic pain, painful menstrual cycles and even infertility. Usually the ovaries, fallopian tubes and lining of the pelvic cavity are the organs affected by this condition.

Lead author of the study, Kristen Upson, PhD, was a predoctoral research fellow in epidemiology at Fred Hutchinson and the University of Washington when the study was performed. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Epidemiology Branch of the NIEHS. She explained, “Since endometriosis is an estrogen-driven condition, we were interested in investigating the role of environmental chemicals that have estrogenic properties, such as organochlorine pesticides, on the risk of the disease.”

Victoria Holt, PhD, is the principal investigator from this study and a joint member of the Epidemiology Research Unit in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson and professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

“This research is important, as endometriosis is a serious condition that can adversely affect the quality of a woman's life, yet we still do not have a clear understanding of why endometriosis develops in some women but not in others,” Holt said. “Our study provides another piece of the puzzle.”

This study took place among women from the Group Health Cooperative, a nonprofit Seattle-based healthcare system. Participants included 248 women who were recently diagnosed with endometriosis and 538 women without the condition who served as a control group.

“We found it interesting that despite organochlorine pesticides being restricted in use or banned in the US for the past several decades, these chemicals were detectable in the blood samples of women in our study and were associated with increased endometriosis risk,” Upson said. “The take-home message from our study is that persistent environmental chemicals, even those used in the past, may affect the health of the current generation of reproductive-age women with regard to a hormonally driven disease.”

In general, organochlorides under laboratory study have been shown to exhibit estrogenic properties when studied on human tissue. Also, they have caused harmful reproductive effects in laboratory studies of other model organisms, changing the function of the uterus and ovaries, along with hormone production.

“Given these actions, it's plausible that organochlorine pesticides could increase the risk of an estrogen-driven disease such as endometriosis,” Upson said. “We hope our findings will help inform current global policymaking to reduce or eliminate their use.”

Their study was published online ahead of the print issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.