"Forever chemicals" linked to hypertension in middle-aged women
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are known as "forever chemicals" because they can stay in the environment for a very long time. These chemicals have been linked to health problems, including cancer. Middle-aged women with higher blood concentrations of PFAS may be at risk for these health problems, according to new research published today in Hypertension, an American Heart Association journal.
PFAS are a type of synthetic chemical that can be found in many everyday items, such as certain shampoo, dental floss, cosmetics, clothing, non-stick cookware and food packaging. These "forever chemicals" can enter the food system through fish caught in PFAS-contaminated water, dairy products from cows exposed to PFAS through fertilizers on farms, and even processed foods like bread.
At low levels in the blood, research has shown that some PFAS can have detrimental health effects. These include increased risk of cardiovascular problems, including endothelial dysfunction (impaired blood vessel function), oxidative stress and elevated cholesterol. However, no previous studies have evaluated the potential link between PFAS levels and blood pressure control among middle-aged women.
"Women seem to be particularly vulnerable when exposed to these chemicals,"
Ning Ding, Ph.D., M.P.H. - University of Michigan School of Public Health
She emphasized "Our study is the first to examine the association between 'forever chemicals' and hypertension in middle-aged women. Exposure may be an underappreciated risk factor for women's cardiovascular disease risk." The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has previously shown that most Americans have detectable concentrations of at least one PFAS in their blood. According to one study, two of the most common 'forever chemicals' are found in most household drinking water and are consumed by more than two-thirds of Americans.
A study of women's health across the nation-multi-pollutant study (SWAN-MPS) found that certain PFASs are associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure. The data included more than 1,000 women, ranging from 45 to 56 years old who had normal blood pressure when they enrolled in the study. The results:
- During 11,722 person-years of follow-up for all study participants, 470 women developed high blood pressure.
- Women with higher concentrations of specific PFAS were more likely to develop high blood pressure: women in the highest one-third concentrations of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and 2-(N-ethyl-perfluorooctane sulfonamido) acetic acid (EtFOSAA, a PFOS precursor) had 42%, 47% and 42% higher risks, respectively, of developing high blood pressure, compared to women in the lowest one-third concentrations of these PFAS.
- Women in the highest one-third concentrations of all seven PFAS examined had a 71% increased risk of developing high blood pressure.
When researchers examined the effects of exposure to multiple PFAS chemicals on blood pressure, they found that the combined exposure was more harmful than individual exposures. "Some states are beginning to ban the use of PFAS in food packaging and cosmetic and personal care products. Our findings make it clear that strategies to limit the widespread use of PFAS in products need to be developed. Switching to alternative options may help reduce the incidence of high blood pressure risk in midlife women." said senior author Sung Kyun Park, Sc.D., M.P.H - University of Michigan School of Public Health.
"We have known for some time that PFAS disrupt metabolism in the body, yet, we didn't expect the strength of the association we found. We hope that these findings alert clinicians about the importance of PFAS and that they need to understand and recognize PFAS as an important potential risk factor for blood pressure control," Park said.