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Associations between blood cadmium and endocrine features related to PCOS-phenotypes in healthy women of reproductive age: a prospective cohort study

  • Kim, Keewan1
  • Pollack, Anna Z.2
  • Nobles, Carrie J.1
  • Sjaarda, Lindsey A.1
  • Zolton, Jessica R.1, 3
  • Radoc, Jeannie G.1
  • Schisterman, Enrique F.1
  • Mumford, Sunni L.1
  • 1 Epidemiology Branch, Division of Intramural Population Health Research, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 6710B Rockledge Drive MSC 7004, Bethesda, Maryland, 20892, USA , Bethesda (United States)
  • 2 George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, 22030, USA , Fairfax (United States)
  • 3 Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bethesda, Maryland, 20892, USA , Bethesda (United States)
Published Article
Environmental Health
BioMed Central
Publication Date
May 22, 2021
DOI: 10.1186/s12940-021-00749-4
Springer Nature


BackgroundCadmium is an endocrine disrupting chemical that affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Though evidence suggests its potential role in altering androgen synthesis and metabolic pathways that are characteristic of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), its relation in healthy women of reproductive age is largely unknown. As women with mild sub-clinical features of PCOS who do not meet the diagnostic criteria of PCOS may still experience reduced fecundability, investigating associations between cadmium and PCOS-phenotypes among healthy women may provide unique insight into the reproductive implications for many on the PCOS spectrum. Therefore, the objective of this study was to evaluate associations between cadmium and androgens, anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), and metabolic markers in women of reproductive age.MethodsThis was a prospective cohort study of 251 healthy premenopausal women without self-reported PCOS (mean age 27.3 years and BMI 24.1 kg/m2). Cadmium was measured in blood collected at baseline. Reproductive hormones and metabolic markers were measured in fasting serum 8 times per menstrual cycle for 2 cycles. Linear mixed models and Poisson regression with a robust error variance were used to examine associations between cadmium and reproductive hormones and metabolic markers and anovulation, respectively.ResultsMedian (interquartile range) blood cadmium concentrations at baseline were 0.30 (0.19–0.43) µg/L. Higher levels of testosterone (2.2 %, 95 % confidence interval [CI] 0.4, 4.1), sex hormone-binding globulin (2.9 %, 95 % CI 0.5, 5.5), and AMH (7.7 %, 95 % CI 1.1, 14.9) were observed per 0.1 µg/L increase in cadmium concentrations. An 18 % higher probability of a mild PCOS-phenotype (95 % CI 1.06, 1.31), defined by a menstrual cycle being in the highest quartile of cycle-averaged testosterone and AMH levels, was also found per 0.1 µg/L increase in cadmium levels. No associations were observed for insulin and glucose. These findings were consistent even after analyses were restricted to non-smokers or further adjusted for dietary factors to account for potential sources of exposure.ConclusionsOverall, among healthy reproductive-aged women, cadmium was associated with endocrine features central to PCOS, but not with metabolic markers. These suggest its potential role in the hormonal milieu associated with PCOS even at low levels of exposure.

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