Hypothyroidism risk in women may increase with exposure to flame retardant chemicals: Study

hypothyroidismHypothyroidism risk in women may increase with exposure to flame retardant chemicals. The study has found that younger women exposed to the chemical known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) may be more likely to develop an underactive thyroid.

PBDEs are flame retardants found in textiles, furniture, and electronics. Lead researcher Youssef Oulhote said, “What we found is, there is a link between exposure to these flame retardants, especially some of them, and the risk of hypothyroidism [abnormally low thyroid function].”


The researchers looked at 745 women aged 30 to 79, taking their blood measurements for PBDEs and checking their thyroid function. They found that 90 women who reported hypothyroidism and were on hormone replacement therapy.

The study revealed that the higher the concentration of PBDEs in the women’s blood, the greater the likelihood of having an underactive thyroid. Also, the risk of hypothyroidism varied depending on the type of PBDE in the blood. Oulhote explained, “Those with detectable level of BDE100 [one type] were 80 percent more likely to have hypothyroidism than those without detectable levels.”

The risk of hypothyroidism was highest among those aged 30 to 50, compared to women over 50, because, as Oulhote explained, “older women, more than 50, would not have been exposed before puberty.” PBDE chemicals were actively used during the 1970s, when the women in high-risk group were going through their puberty.

There may be several mechanisms at work linking PBDE exposure and hypothyroidism. In particular, PBDEs can bind to receptors intended for thyroid hormones – thanks to their ability to mimic these hormones – and disrupt the endocrine system.

Other risk factors for hypothyroidism

Aside from chemical exposure, there are other factors that can increase one’s risk of developing an underactive thyroid. If you have an autoimmune disease, a family history of thyroid disease, have been treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid mediations, or have had thyroid surgery, you’re at an increased risk of developing hypothyroidism.

If left untreated, hypothyroidism can develop into additional health complications, including:

  • Goiter – swelling of the neck
  • Heart problems – risk of heart disease, enlarged heart, and heart failure
  • Mental health issues – depression and/or slow mental functioning
  • Peripheral neuropathy – damage to nerves carrying information from brain to spinal cord.
  • Myxedema – intense cold intolerance, followed by drowsiness and unconsciousness. Can be fatal.
  • Infertility – hypothyroidism can interfere with ovulation
  • Birth defects – babies more prone to intellectual and developmental problems

In order to obtain early treatment for hypothyroidism, it’s important you pay close attention to the associated signs and symptoms, which include:

  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Puffy face
  • Hoarseness
  • Muscle weakness
  • High cholesterol
  • Muscle ache and stiffness
  • Heavier menstrual periods
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Impaired memory
  • Depression

If you begin to experience these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to have your thyroid checked.

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Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.