Although several recent studies suggest endocrine disrupting compounds, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (p,p′, DDE), and hexachlorobenzene (HCB), target different organs and systems in the body, their impact on female reproductive function in humans is not well characterized. We seek to determine the relationship between several known endocrine disrupting compounds and a marker of ovarian responsivity, the FSH:LH ratio (higher ratio indicates less ovarian responsivity).
For this analysis, 169 naturally cycling women between 21 and 38 years of age completed interviews and had their blood drawn on day 3 of their menstrual cycle for analyses of toxicants, gonadal sex hormones (E2 and P4), and gonadotropins (FSH and LH). PCB congeners were classified into five groups based on their environmental persistence, distribution in human tissue, and toxicological action, reflecting the structure, mechanism, and known biological activity of individual PCB congeners.
For every unit (ppb) increase in the level of the estrogenic PCB group, there was a 5-fold greater risk of a FSH:LH ratio ≥ 2, controlling for individual differences in age, percent body fat, cycle day 3 estradiol levels, parity, alcohol use and cigarette smoking in the past year (exp[ß] = 5; p = ≤0.01). PCB congeners identified as estrogenic were analyzed individually, and, of the 19 potentially estrogenic congeners, five were significantly, and positively related to an increased FSH:LH ratio. Four of these congeners are non-persistent, easily volatilize in the environment, and are easily metabolized, and hence, are indicative of very recent or current exposure. p,p′-DDE and HCB were not associated with FSH:LH ratio.
We find a clinical indicator of ovarian responsivity, FSH:LH ratio, is associated with a specific group of estrogenic PCBs. These congeners may become airborne when they volatilize from dredged PCB-contaminated soil or from indoor PCB-containing window caulk and sealants in older buildings leading to inhalation exposure. PCB exposure, particularly to non-persistent, estrogenic congeners, may pose an unrecognized threat to female fecundity within the general population.