Researchers are warning women against exposure to synthetic chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have been found to increase the risk of developing high blood pressure.
Published in the journal Hypertension on Monday, the “Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation Multi-Pollutant Study” reviewed almost two decades’ worth of health data from over 1,000 women ages 45 to 56.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, aimed to evaluate the health effects of exposure to different chemicals, including the synthetic PFAS, on women.
PFAS, which are used to make products resistant to heat, grease, stains or water, have been alternatively called “forever chemicals” for their inability to naturally break down. This property often results in PFAS contamination in drinking water, soil, air and even food.
While “older” PFAS chemicals have been banned or phased out, newer iterations of PFAS have emerged and replaced them. In recent years, these chemicals have been found in cosmetics, takeout containers, drinking water, clothing and household items.
This is why most people are likely to have been exposed to PFAS and already contain detectable levels of the chemicals in their blood.
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Among the potential health risks of PFAS exposure studied in previous research include a higher risk of certain cancers and liver disease. Recent findings have also linked hypertension with exposure to the chemicals.
Included in the study were women from five sites across the U.S., over half of whom were white, 15% who were Black and the rest who were East Asian.
All of the women began the study with normal blood pressure at the beginning. However, between 1999 and 2017, their annual checkups showed that 470 women had developed high blood pressure.
According to the researchers, the women who had relatively high concentrations of all seven PFAS chemicals in their blood at the beginning of the study had a 71% increased risk of becoming hypertensive.
In a press release, Sung Kyun Park, an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and senior author of the research, highlighted the need to regulate several different chemicals due to their effect on blood pressure.
“Some states are beginning to ban the use of PFAS in food packaging and cosmetic and personal care products,” he said. “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.”
A separate study in 2020 that looked at the same data concluded that women exposed to PFAS may experience menopause two years earlier than other women.
“PFAS are everywhere. Once they enter the body, they don’t break down and build up over time,” lead author Ning Ding was quoted as saying. “Because of their persistence in humans and potentially detrimental effects on ovarian function, it is important to raise awareness of this issue and reduce exposure to these chemicals.”