Environmental Factors Affecting Women’s Health, The environment affects human health in many ways. A healthy environment has positive effects; a polluted environment harms health. Environmental illnesses are significantly more common among women than men.
Environmental hazards increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma & many more illnesses. These hazards can be physical such as pollution, toxic chemicals, food contaminants or they can be social as dangerous work, poor housing conditions, urban sprawl, and poverty.
Air pollution is a growing threat to female fertility. Research has shown that air pollution is associated with diverse set of outcomes, from altered production of sperm & eggs to epigenetic changes & birth defects. Air pollutants can be higher indoors than outdoors. This can be particular threat in low income group where people still cook using solid fuels (wood, crop wastes, and charcoal) & kerosene in open fires creating an environmental risk that could have significant impact on fertility & health during pregnancy.
Further, progressive industrialization has resulted in production of multitude of chemicals that are released into the environment on daily basis. According to Reviews on Environmental Health, compounds known as POP (persistent organic pollutants) which include pesticides & dioxins are harmful for women. Exposure to POP can lead to breast cancer & ovarian diseases and can affect liver, eventually causing disruption in body’s function & metabolism.
Moreover from the evidence so far available, women appear to be more sensitive to certain disorders caused by environmental chemicals such as cardio vascular disease.
EDC’S (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals) in the environment have effects on both male & female fertility. They are typically man made & are found in pesticides, metals, food additives & personal care products. EDC’S can be transferred from mothers to children across placenta and through breast milk.
Exposure at Home: Women are more likely than men to manage the home environment. This can expose women to variety of toxic substances used in cleaning & laundry products, pesticides, foods & solvents.
Exposure at Work: Women are more likely to develop occupational disease. This may be because women are exposed to different occupational hazards (e.g. when working in hair or nail salon) or because certain female dominated fields may not be as well regulated to protect workers from toxic exposures. Living near contaminated soil, an air polluting factory site or a landfill site, having a job as farm worker, cleaner or factory worker can exposes a woman to environmental hazards.
Cosmetics: Women are more likely to use cosmetic products such as hair dye, makeup, perfumes & skin products, many of which contain potentially harmful chemicals.
Physiological Differences: Research has shown that in some situations, women react differently than men when exposed to the same toxic substances. Women consistently report having more symptoms. A number of physiological differences might explain this. Because women have a higher percentage of body fat as compared to men, they store more fat soluble toxins. Also, hormonal differences can affect the way a person’s body responds to chemicals.
Socio Economic Differences: A Women living in poverty is more likely to live in houses that expose her to environmental toxins, such as asbestos, lead based paint & mould. During menopause bone stores break down & release accumulated lead into the blood stream. Among older women, blood lead levels may be 25% higher than prior to menopause. Higher blood lead levels can increase risk for hypertension, atherosclerosis, and reduced kidney function.
Living near or below poverty line can also mean more stress & can make it difficult to exercise regularly, get a good night’s sleep & eat nutritious food which in turn affect a person’s ability to cope with environmental illnesses.