Scientists Link Pesticides to Painful Condition

Endometriosis could have ties to nasty pesticides that linger in the environment.

November 5, 2013

What causes endometriosis, a painful condition that affects a whopping 10 percent of women during their reproductive years? Scientists now believe they've homed in on one possible cause—chemical pesticides.

A noncancerous condition that features uterine tissue growing in abnormal places in the body, such as the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, or other pelvic areas, endometriosis is a notoriously painful ailment that often adversely affects a woman's ability to conceive.


Scientists already know that estrogen plays a role in fueling endometriosis, so they decided to look at especially potent estrogenic chemicals in the organochlorine pesticide family to see if exposure to them increased the risk of a woman developing endometriosis.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) team found a link between a higher risk of endometriosis and two specific pesticides—beta-hexachlorocylohexane and mirex. The two chemicals caused a 30- to 70-percent increase in endometriosis risk, respectively, according to the study published online ahead of the print issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. The study included nearly 250 women newly diagnosed with the disease.

Organochlorine pesticides have pretty reliably acted in estrogenic ways in laboratory studies using human tissue. In other lab studies, the toxic pesticides, now restricted or banned in the United States, showed abnormal uterus, ovarian, and hormone functioning.

"We found it interesting that despite organochlorine pesticides' being restricted in use or banned in the U.S. 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,” says lead study author Kristen Upson, PhD, a research fellow in epidemiology at FHCRC and the University of Washington at the time of the study. She's now a fellow with the National Institute of Environment Health Sciences. "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…We hope our findings will help inform current global policymaking to reduce or eliminate their use."

Knowledge is power! To learn more about how pesticides could be tinkering with your health, read 9 Crazy Things Pesticides Are Doing to Your Body. To lower your exposure to toxic pesticides, choose organic whenever possible and instead of spraying bug killers around your lawn and home, use natural pest-control methods.

Tags: Pesticides