Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are everywhere. These man-made chemicals are used in a plethora of household items, including our clothing, food packaging, cookware, and carpeting, to name just a few. They may make life a little easier, since they are designed to prevent stains and sticking, but now research is finding that this convenience may come at an even higher price than we previously thought. On top of everything else, a new study has found an association between greater exposure to PFCs and an elevated risk of osteoarthritis in women.
The research, conducted at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in New Haven, Connecticut, involved the analysis of exposure to PFCs, and how two of them in particular–PFOA and PFOS–affected the health of the subjects.1 Mozes, Alan. “Household Chemicals Linked to Arthritis in Women.” WebMD. 14 February 2013. Accessed 18 February 2013. http://women.webmd.com/news/20130214/chemicals-in-cookware-carpets-may-raise-arthritis-risk-in-women Working with data from the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003 through 2008, the scientists were able to compare levels of exposure with health records indicating the development of osteoarthritis. The participants were more than 4,000 men and women, ranging in age between 20 and 84.
The osteoarthritis risk was almost doubled for the women in contact with either PFOA or PFOS as opposed to those women having the least contact with the chemicals. In addition, the PFCs appear to have a stronger effect on women between the ages of 20 and 49 than on the older women in the study. Why is it that no link was found between PFCs and osteoarthritis in men and a weaker link between the two in women 50 and older? The result is somewhat surprising since PFCs are known to leach into all of our bodies and harm everyone of us. However, it turns out that premenopausal women may be affected the most because PFOA and PFOS are xenoestrogens, which function as estrogen disruptors and wreak havoc with hormonal balance.
Our hormones can play a profound role in chronic inflammation and the way the body repairs damage to cartilage within the joints. The natural estrogen produced in a woman’s body serves as one of the risk factors for arthritis as it can confer some protection from cartilage inflammation. But when estrogen disruptors are introduced in large quantities, the hormonal system can go awry and inflammation surges, resulting in the development of osteoarthritis, the most common form of the condition.2 Suszynski, Marie. “Why More Women Have Osteoarthritis.” Everyday Health. Accessed 19 February 2013. http://www.everydayhealth.com/osteoarthritis/osteoarthritis-and-gender.aspx The other factors that increase osteoarthritis risk include heredity, being overweight, and injuries to a particular joint. Osteoarthritis causes progressive deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the joints, producing pain and stiffness, and in women it is most often found in the hands and knees.
And increasing the risk factors for arthritis is not the only health hazard that PFCs have been associated with, either. A 2009 study at the University of California, Los Angeles found that higher levels of PFCs in a woman’s body correlated to lower fertility levels–not really surprising when you think about it.3 Fei, Chunyuan, et al. “Maternal levels of perfluorinated chemicals and subfecundity.” Human Reproduction. 28 January 2009. Accessed 19 February 2013. http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/content/24/5/1200.full.pdf+html Another study, this one at Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, United Kingdom, in 2010, noted a link between exposure to PFOA and a greater risk of thyroid disease.4 Melzer, David, et al. “Association between Serum Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Thyroid Disease in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.” Environmental Health Perspectives. 20 January 2010. Accessed 19 February 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866686 Other research suggests PFCs may raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, provoke early onset menopause, harm sperm quality, and more.5 “Chemical Culprits: PFCs.” Natural Resources Defense Council. 12 August 2011. Accessed 19 February 2013. http://www.nrdc.org/living/healthreports/chemical-culprits-pfcs.asp
So, with PFCs such an ubiquitous part of our lives, just how does one avoid them? Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that aside from being used in practically everything these days, PFCs remain in the environment for decades and in our bodies for many years. It is estimated that under normal circumstances it takes the body at least four years to expel half a dose of PFOA, and at least eight years for PFOS.6 “Perfluorinated Compounds.” Washington Toxics Coalition. Accessed 19 February 2013. http://watoxics.org/chemicals-of-concern/perfluorinated-compounds-pfcs
On the positive side, now that the dangers of PFCs have become better known, corporations around the world are finally responding to pressure and cutting back on their use. Still, it is safer to stick with products from companies with a mission to use natural products when possible by checking labels and avoiding anything that has “fluoro” in the ingredient list as well as anything nonstick, water repellent, or stain proof.
In addition, the lifestyle we choose can have a strong influence on how much these chemicals affect our bodies. Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a normal weight, and exercising every day can go a long way toward bolstering the immune system and fighting off the damage of these chemical dangers. It’s also beneficial to flush the system with a full body detox from time to time to ensure we remove some of these elements that we are inevitably exposed to from our bodies, reducing their accumulation and effect on us. Note: the liver and blood detoxes are especially beneficial as most of the PFCs we take into our bodies tends to accumulate in the liver and blood.7 “Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) and Human Health Concerns.” Global Health & Safety Initiative. April 2009. (Accessed 19 Feb 2013.) http://www.healthybuilding.net/healthcare/2009-04-20PFCs_fact_sheet.pdf
|↑1||Mozes, Alan. “Household Chemicals Linked to Arthritis in Women.” WebMD. 14 February 2013. Accessed 18 February 2013. http://women.webmd.com/news/20130214/chemicals-in-cookware-carpets-may-raise-arthritis-risk-in-women|
|↑2||Suszynski, Marie. “Why More Women Have Osteoarthritis.” Everyday Health. Accessed 19 February 2013. http://www.everydayhealth.com/osteoarthritis/osteoarthritis-and-gender.aspx|
|↑3||Fei, Chunyuan, et al. “Maternal levels of perfluorinated chemicals and subfecundity.” Human Reproduction. 28 January 2009. Accessed 19 February 2013. http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/content/24/5/1200.full.pdf+html|
|↑4||Melzer, David, et al. “Association between Serum Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Thyroid Disease in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.” Environmental Health Perspectives. 20 January 2010. Accessed 19 February 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866686|
|↑5||“Chemical Culprits: PFCs.” Natural Resources Defense Council. 12 August 2011. Accessed 19 February 2013. http://www.nrdc.org/living/healthreports/chemical-culprits-pfcs.asp|
|↑6||“Perfluorinated Compounds.” Washington Toxics Coalition. Accessed 19 February 2013. http://watoxics.org/chemicals-of-concern/perfluorinated-compounds-pfcs|
|↑7|| “Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) and Human Health Concerns.” Global Health & Safety Initiative. April 2009. (Accessed 19 Feb 2013.) http://www.healthybuilding.net/healthcare/2009-04-20PFCs_fact_sheet.pdf|