PFAS Exposure Linked to Increased Risk of High Cholesterol, Heart Problems: Study

Amid increasing evidence of widespread PFAS water contamination, new research warns that even low levels of exposure could increase the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and liver disease.

A new study warns that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are not only likely in every person’s blood, given widespread problems with the toxic chemicals contaminating water supplies nationwide, but there is increasing evidence that exposure can cause higher cholesterol levels, which are particularly harmful to younger people.

PFAS include a group of over 9,000 man-made substances, which are widely used to resist grease, oil and water. However, they are known to persist in the environment and build up in the human body, and researchers have identified a myriad of adverse health effects linked to the chemicals, including testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis and other side effects.

Most of the PFAS health concerns have stemmed from water contamination problems, caused by the large volumes of the chemicals in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which have been used by the military and firefighters for decades to fight fuel-based fires. During training and response exercises, these PFAS chemicals have been dumped into the environment and local water supplies, particularly around military bases, airports and firefighter training locations, causing many communities to have dangerous levels of the chemicals in their drinking water.

3M Company, DuPont, Chemguard, Inc., Tyco Fire Products and other manufacturers of chemicals and fire safety products now face thousands of PFAS water contamination lawsuits brought by local water providers and individuals diagnosed with various types of cancer. The companies also face hundreds of firefighter cancer lawsuits over exposure to AFFF, and evidence uncovered during litigation has further heightened concerns about the long-term risks associated with use of the chemicals.

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In this latest study, German researchers report that they found PFAS was “ubiquitous” in a sample of citizens from The Netherlands. However, they also found that PFAS exposure was linked to higher concentrations of cholesterol of all types. Their findings were published last month in the medical journal Exposure and Health.

The researchers analyzed blood samples from 599 participants of the Netherlands Epidemiology of Obesity study between the ages of 30 and 89. They measured the samples for metabolomic data.

According to the findings, PFAS were detected in all participants. In addition, the researchers noted that even low level exposure to some PFAS affected total cholesterol levels.

Some PFAS chemicals were linked to significant age-interactions, with exposure having a more pronounced effect on younger participants.

“These age-effects were observed for almost all lipoprotein and metabolite classes, including cholesterol, cholesterol ester and total lipid content of IDLs, LDLs, and VLDLs, as well as apolipoprotein B (apoB), fatty acids, amino acids, albumin, and sphingomyelin levels,” the researchers determined. “The associations were almost always stronger in the younger compared to the older age group.”

The researchers indicated that even low PFAS levels have a detrimental effect on lipid metabolism in the general population. Higher cholesterol levels were linked to heart disease, and high levels of fatty acids and apoB have been associated with an increased risk of heart attack, according to the findings. These higher lipid levels have also been linked to hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease.

The study determined that even low levels of PFAS exposure could increase the risk of cardio-metabolic outcomes due to their effects on lipid levels.

“The combination of the well-documented persistence of PFAS and their harmful effects ensures that exposure to these substances is an enduring public health concern, unless and until we find ways to effectively eliminate PFAS from our environment,” the researchers concluded, indicating that stricter regulations may be required for all PFAS substances.

The findings were released shortly after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a ban on PFAS chemicals in U.S. food packaging, indicating that the industry has voluntarily phased use of the chemicals out, due to the recognized health risks.

However, PFAS water contamination has been of much greater concern in recent years. A recent report by The Lancet found that dozens of states expect to enact policies intended to prevent PFAS exposure and water contamination, as many have detected high levels of the toxic chemicals in municipal drinking water supplies nationwide.

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