‘Forever chemicals’ linked to high blood pressure, study results


'Forever chemicals' linked to high blood pressure, study results

Millions of Americans have high blood pressure, a condition that, if left untreated, can lead to a heart attack or stroke. In general, it is believed that this condition is mainly caused by diet. But now a strange potential culprit has emerged: a synthetic chemical found in thousands of consumer products, kitchen utensils, and even microwave popcorn bags that may contribute to high blood pressure, or high blood pressure.

These man-made “forever chemicals” — so called because of their ability to decompose — are known as per- and polyfluoroalkyls, abbreviated as PFAS. They are used in everything from non-stick cookware and fast food packaging to furniture and paper packaging. Indeed, due to their utter ubiquity in industrial civilization, PFAS seem to partially enter our blood.

This is where a new report comes into play. According to research published in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association, middle-aged women in particular were more likely to have high blood pressure if they also had higher blood levels of these eternal chemicals.

RELATED: “Forever chemicals” in nonstick pans are in your body right now — and can affect your liver

To determine this, the researchers used data from 1,000 women between the ages of 45 and 56. All had normal blood pressure prior to enrollment in the study and had previously had their blood PFAS levels measured. The participants were racially diverse, from five cities in California or the northern United States, and included women who identified as White (54.5%), Japanese (16.2%), Black (15.2%), or Chinese (14.1%) identified.

Their conclusion was that “Women with higher levels of specific PFAS were more likely to develop hypertension,” more specifically, “Women with the highest levels of one-third of all seven PFAS studied had a 71% increased risk of developing hypertension.”

Experts estimate that 99 percent of Americans have at least some PFAS in their blood. This means that when researching such chemicals, research must focus on them extent own exposure, since it is almost impossible to have an unexposed control group. This leads to some understandable difficulties in trying to set up a controlled experiment that assesses how PFAS affect human health.

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“We cannot say with certainty that PFAS causes hypertension because our study is not an experiment in which people are exposed to PFAS and compared to unexposed controls,” said the study’s senior author, Sung Kyun Park, Sc.D. MPH, an associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, told Salon via email. “To prove whether environmental chemicals like PFAS have health consequences, we need a series of well-designed and well-conducted studies that show consistent results. Our study is the first step and we need further studies to determine if PFAS are causally linked to hypertension and cardiovascular disease.”

“The best way to reduce the health impacts at this point is to focus on regulation to ensure we are not exposed at all and find ways to permanently remove them from our environment.”

Liz Costello, a graduate student at the University of Southern California who was involved in a study linking PFAS to liver disease, praised the new report, noting that while an individual observational study like this could not possibly prove that PFAS causes high blood pressure , “Prospective Studies like this are the best we have without conducting a controlled experiment, and they can reassure us that there is no reverse causality (where high blood pressure could somehow affect blood PFAS levels) since PFAS exposure preceded the development of hypertension. “

When asked if there was anything consumers could do to avoid PFAS, Costello was skeptical.

“I think it’s very hard for people to avoid PFAS on their own,” Costello explained. “There are some water filters that can remove them if you have contaminated water, but it’s much more difficult when PFAS are in your food packaging or household products. Some products may also advertise that they are PFAS-free, so if you know what to look for you may be able to avoid some exposure. But there are thousands of PFAS out there, and you won’t find most of them on product labels.”

She added: “The best way to reduce the health impacts at this point is to focus on regulation to ensure we are not exposed at all and to find ways to permanently remove them from our environment remove.”

Because it’s impossible for individuals to avoid exposure, Park argued that people should focus on improving chemical regulations.

“It’s more important that we regulate PFAS through legislation,” Park said. “If we have stricter regulations, everyone can benefit. It is very important that our policy makers take action and address PFAS exposure. We have a lot of scientific evidence that consistently tells us that reducing PFAS is really important.”

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