Background Although relationships between exposure to air pollution and reproductive health are broadly studied, mechanisms behind these phenomena are still unknown. The aim of the study was to assess whether exposure to particulate matter (PM10) and tobacco smoking have an impact on menstrual profiles of 17β-estradiol (E2) and progesterone (P) and the E2/P ratio. Methods Levels of sex hormones were measured daily in saliva during the entire menstrual cycle among 132 healthy, urban women. Exposure to smoking (active or passive) was assessed by questionnaire, whilst exposure to PM10 with municipal monitoring data. Results During the early luteal phase, profiles of E2 were elevated among women with higher versus lower exposure to PM10 (p = 0.02, post-hoc tests). Among those who were exposed versus unexposed to tobacco smoking, the levels of mean E2 measured during the entire cycle were higher (p = 0.02). The difference in mean E2 levels between the group of joint exposure (i.e. to high PM10 and passive or active smoking) versus the reference group (low PM10, no smoking) was statistically significant at p = 0.03 (18.4 vs. 12.4 pmol/l, respectively). The E2/P ratios were higher among women with higher versus lower exposure to PM10 and this difference was seen only in the early luteal phase (p = 0.01, exploratory post-hoc tests). Conclusions We found that PM10 and tobacco smoking affect ovarian hormones independently and do not interact with each other. Both exposures appear to have estrogenic effects even though women's susceptibility to these effects differs across the menstrual cycle. We propose that the hormonal mechanisms are involved in observed relationships between air pollution and smoking with women’s reproductive health.
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