Calls for stricter regulation as PFAS in blood linked to harmful lipid profiles

New research has identified that synthetic per- and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds (PFAS) accumulated in the blood are linked to harmful blood lipids associated with cardiovascular risk.

“We see clear signs of a harmful effect of PFAS on health,” says Monique Breteler, Director of Population Health Sciences at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and senior author of a new paper in the journal Exposure and Health.

“We have found that at the same PFAS concentration in the blood, the negative effects are more pronounced in younger subjects than in older ones.”

Based on data collected from more than 2,500 adults ranging from 30-89 years old from the Dutch municipality of Leiderdorp and Bonn, Germany, the results suggest that even relatively low PFAS concentrations in the blood are associated with unfavourable blood lipid profiles.

“Our data shows a statistically significant correlation between PFAS in the blood and harmful blood lipids linked to cardiovascular risk. The higher the PFAS level, the higher the concentration of these lipids,” says Breteler.

“Taken strictly, this is not yet a proof that PFAS chemicals cause the unfavourable blood lipid profiles. However, the close correlation supports this suspicion. It is a strong argument for stricter regulation of PFAS in order to protect health.”

Since the 1950s PFAS have been used widely in industrial processes and consumer products due to their heat-resistant, and water, oil, and dirt-repellent properties.

PFAS contain strong carbon-fluorine bonds that are extremely resistant to both chemical and biological degradation. As a result, PFAS do not break down easily and persist in the environment – earning the nickname ‘forever chemicals’.

PFAS find their way into human bodies and accumulate there through through food and drinking water, consumer products and packaging, and breathing in air and dust.

Our understanding of their public health impacts remains relatively limited, but according to the US Environmental Protection Agency exposure to certain levels of PFAS may lead to reproductive and developmental effects, increased risk of some cancers, reduced ability of the immune system to fight infections, interference with hormones, and increased cholesterol levels.

In this study, blood samples were analysed using mass spectrometry to identify the presence of the 3 most widespread types of PFAS – perfluorooctaneic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), and perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS) – and to determine the concentration of 224 blood lipids, metabolites, and amino acids.

“With this ‘untargeted approach’ – an intentionally broad approach without a preconceived target – we were able to prove the connection between the PFAS concentration and a problematic profile of fatty substances, so-called lipids. These include the well-known cholesterol and various other blood lipids that are known to be risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” says Elvire Landstra, a scientist at DZNE and co-first author of the paper.

“Our study is the most detailed on this topic to date and the one with the largest database. Previous studies had already suggested a correlation between PFAS and unhealthy blood lipids, but this link had never been as clear as in our study.”

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