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Study: 'Forever chemicals' linked to increased risk for high blood pressure

Pond with fountain and sunshine reflecting on the water. Photo courtesy of the American Heart Association.
Pond with fountain and sunshine reflecting on the water. Photo courtesy of the American Heart Association.

June 13 (UPI) -- Middle-aged women with the highest blood concentrations of common synthetic chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also called "forever chemicals," had increased risk of developing high blood pressure, a new study found.

The study by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was published Monday in Hypertension, an American Heart Association journal.

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"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," the study's lead author Ning Ding, Ph.D. M.P.H., a post doctoral fellow in the department of epidemiology at the university, said in a statement. "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."

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Thousands of different "forever chemicals" are used daily in household items, such as shampoo, dental floss, cosmetics, non-stick cookware, food packaging, and stain-resistant coatings for carpeting, upholstery and clothing, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The PFAS also enter the food supply through fish caught in PFAS-contaminated water and dairy products from cows exposed to PFAS- through fertilizers on farms.

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Previous research has shown that some PFAS have been linked to detrimental health effects even at low levels in the blood, including cardiovascular risk, impaired blood vessel function, oxidative stress and heightened cholesterol, a statement from the American Heart Association noted. But this was the first study to examine the effect of PFAS levels on blood pressure control among middle-aged women.

"Women seem to be particularly vulnerable when exposed to these chemicals," Ding added. "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."

Researchers analyzed a diverse group of more than 1,000 women, ages 45-56, who initially had normal blood pressure with follow-up visits annually from 1999-2017.

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"It is important to note that we examined individual PFAS as well as several PFAS together, and we found that the combined exposure to multiple PFAS had a stronger effect on blood pressure," said study senior author Sung Kyun Park, Sc.D., M.P.H., a university associate professor. "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."

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The women with the highest blood concentrations of all seven PFAS had a 71% increased risk of developing blood pressure, and women with higher concentrations of specific PFAS than others were also more likely to develop high blood pressure, the study found.

Women with higher levels of perfluorooctanoic sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and 2-(N-ethyl-perfluorooctanoic sulfonamido) acetic acid (a PFOS precursor), had 42%, 47% and 42% higher risks, respectively.

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"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," Park added. "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."

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