MADISON – Women who have high levels of "forever chemicals" in
their bodies may be at a higher risk for developing blood
pressure issues later in life, according to a new study that
examined a group of women over the course of 18 years.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of
Michigan, found that PFAS exposure may be an "underappreciated
risk factor" for cardiovascular disease, one researcher said.
The study found that women with higher levels of PFAS in their
bodies had a 71% increase in their risk for high blood pressure,
the first study of its kind to examine possible links between
the compounds that portion of women's health, said researcher
The study included more than 1,000 women who were between the
ages of 42 and 52 between November 1995 and October 1997.
Officially launched in 1999, the study followed the women
through 2017, with annual check-ins. Though the study wasn't
originally launched with PFAS in mind, Kyun said he had the
opportunity to incorporate the compounds.
During the course of the evaluation, 470 women developed high
blood pressure, and researchers were able to connect those high
levels with a series of different compounds within the "forever
chemical" family, including PFOA, one of the most well-
researched and well-known.
The study focused on women in the middle age range because of
the changes that typically happen to their bodies.
"This critical life stage is very important, but scientific
research is lacking during that stage," he said. "That's why we
examined this population."
Though the study looked at only women, it doesn't mean that men
can't be impacted in similar ways, Kyun said. But research has
suggested that women may be exposed at higher rates to PFAS.
"Women are more likely to use consumer products that contain
PFAS," he said.
Kyun said researchers were able to analyze the total amount of
PFAS in the women's blood year over year and said there has been
a marked reduction in the compounds since 1999 and 2000, when
companies began to ramp down use.
What are PFAS and their impacts to the human body?
PFAS are a family of man-made chemicals used for their water-
and stain-resistant qualities in a multitude of products people
come into contact with, such as clothing and carpet, nonstick
cookware and packaging. The family includes 5,000 compounds,
which remain both in the environment and human body over time.
The chemicals have been linked to types of kidney and testicular
cancers, lower birth weights, harm to immune and reproductive
systems, altered hormone regulation and altered thyroid
hormones. The chemicals enter the human body largely through
drinking water, but can also be consumed if food comes into
contact with PFAS-containing packaging.
More:Here's what you should know about PFAS, the 'forever
contaminant' being identified in more locations across Wisconsin
“PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they never
degrade in the environment and contaminate drinking water, soil,
air, food and numerous products we consume or encounter
routinely," study author Ning Ding, a post-doctoral fellow in
the department of epidemiology at the University of Michigan
School of Public Health, said in a news release. "One study
estimated that two of the most common ’forever chemicals’ are
found in most household drinking water and are consumed by more
than two-thirds of Americans."
How to reduce amount of PFAS you encounter
Kyun said that there are steps that consumers can take to reduce
the amount of PFAS in their lives, like staying away from
nonstick cookware, not buying stain-proof couches or carpets and
avoiding waterproof mascara.
But the best way to reduce the amount of PFAS that the normal
American comes into contact would be to put strict regulations
in place for the chemicals.
"At the individual level, it's impossible to avoid exposure," he
said. "It's more important that we regulate PFAS through
legislation. If we have stricter regulations, everyone can
Lawmakers should take into account studies like this one that
show the real-world harm PFAS have, Kyun said.
"It is very important for our policymakers to do something and
act on PFAS exposure," he said. "We have a lot of scientific
evidence that consistently tells us that reduction in PFAS is
In addition to policymakers, Kyun said that doctors should take
into consideration talking with patients about how PFAS can have
certain risk factors if a patient is exposed.
"Not only are doing physical activity and healthier diets are
important," he said. "But reducing exposure by limiting PFAS
sources is important, too. Clinicians need to understand."