Today's Healthy News
Pollutants May Pose Greater Danger to Women
By DAMARIS CHRISTENSEN
Medical Tribune News Service
WASHINGTON _ Women may be more vulnerable to environmental
toxins than men, according to research presented here Thursday
at a conference on women's health.
Scientists believe exposure to environmental chemicals, as well
as stress, may both increase a woman's chance of developing
certain diseases and worsen the symptoms of these diseases, said
Anne Sassaman, director of extramural research at the National
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle
Park, N.C. These diseases include breast cancer and autoimmune
conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
The reason for women's increased susceptibility, researchers
believe, may be their smaller size. The same exposure can mean
a higher dose and thus a greater effect.
Furthermore, many environmental toxins can be stored in body
fat. Women tend to have more body fat than men, and pregnancy,
breast feeding, dieting, menopause and aging all may release
these toxins from fat, Sassaman said. Genetics could also play
"The message is clear: there is much to learn, there are very
significant gender differences, and we are not just talking
about so-called women's diseases," said Dr. Lynn Goldman,
assistant administrator for prevention, pesticides and toxic
substances at Environmental Protection Agency in Washington.
Yet, it isn't known whether women are exposed to more
potentially harmful agents or are simply more vulnerable than
men, in part because such exposures are difficult to measure,
according to a recent study by the Institute of Medicine in
Washington, D.C., a federal advisory group.
The report called for federal research on this issue, as well
as on the effects of pollutant exposure during puberty,
pregnancy and menopause.
In response, several federal agencies promised additional
research funds for women's health and environmental studies, as
well as better coordination of research efforts.
Other research presented at the conference, sponsored by the
Washington-based Society for the Advancement of Women's Health
o Female smokers are more likely than male smokers to suffer
DNA damage and gene mutations that contribute to cancer,
although studies suggesting this link have been very small,
said Dr. Peter Shields of the National Cancer Institute in
o Low-level lead exposure may increase a woman's chance of
developing high blood pressure, according to a study of 284
women. Women with the highest bone levels of lead (measured
by sampling the kneecap) were about twice as likely to
develop high blood pressure as those with the lowest levels,
reported Dr. Susan A. Korrick, an instructor in medicine at
Harvard Medical School in Boston.
o A study of 2,000 women found that older women had higher
blood levels of lead, probably because bones release stored
lead as they weaken after menopause. However, women who used
hormone replacement therapy did not have more lead in their
blood. It is possible that higher lead levels may contribute
to the rise in high blood pressure, kidney dysfunction and
memory difficulties after menopause, the researchers said.
o Preliminary information collected as part of a nationwide
study suggests that women exposed to environmental
pollutants may be more likely to have diabetes, kidney
problems, liver problems and urinary tract disorders, and
are also more likely to develop breast, cervical and uterine
cancers. Men did not report increases in diseases with
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