Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate Use and Blood Lead Levels in a Cohort of Young Women

Environ Health Perspect. 2020 Nov;128(11):117004. doi: 10.1289/EHP7017. Epub 2020 Nov 18.


Background: Injectable contraceptive use is common, with 74 million users worldwide. Use of the injectable contraceptive depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) is associated with bone mineral density loss. We hypothesize that increased bone resorption with DMPA use allows for mobilization of the toxic metal lead stored in bone to blood, presenting users with increased systemic exposure to lead.

Objective: The objective of our study was to investigate the association between current DMPA use and blood lead concentrations.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional analysis using enrollment data from the Study of Environment, Lifestyle & Fibroids (SELF), a cohort of 1,693 African-American women who were 23-35 years of age. Data on DMPA use were collected by computer-assisted telephone interview. Blood lead concentrations were measured in whole blood samples among 1,548 participants (91% of cohort). We estimated the adjusted percent difference in blood lead concentrations and 95% confidence intervals (CI) between current DMPA users and nonusers using multivariable linear regression.

Results: Geometric mean blood lead concentration was 0.69μg/dL (95% CI: 0.67, 0.71). After adjustment, current DMPA users (7% of cohort) had blood lead concentrations that were 18% higher than those of nonusers (95% CI: 8%, 29%). Similar associations were observed with additional analyses to assess for potential bias from smoking, DMPA-induced amenorrhea, use of estrogen-containing contraceptives, having given birth in the prior year, and history of medical conditions or current medication use associated with bone loss.

Discussion: Our results indicate that current DMPA use is associated with increased blood lead concentrations. Further research, particularly in populations highly exposed to lead, is warranted to consider tradeoffs between the adverse effects of lead on human health and the importance of DMPA as a contraceptive option to prevent unintended pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bone Density
  • Cohort Studies
  • Contraceptive Agents, Female / therapeutic use*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lead / blood*
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / therapeutic use*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Contraceptive Agents, Female
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Lead
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate