More evidence that environmental exposures are a driver of the obesity epidemic—and another reason to ban PFAS chemicals. Action Alert!
A new study found that elevated levels of PFAS chemicals in the blood were associated with weight gain, increasing the already-lengthy list of negative health effects linked with PFAS exposure. PFAS, or polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of chemicals used in hundreds of consumer products. They are nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment and accumulate in blood and organs. As we reported recently, the EPA has taken some actions to address widespread PFAS contamination, but it is not nearly enough: we need to ban these chemicals for good.
Researchers tested the blood of 381 Europeans who lost a minimum of 8 percent of their original weight after two months of dieting. All participants stayed on a specific diet for 26 weeks after the initial weight loss. Those who gained the most weight back had the highest level of PFAS exposure.
The authors concluded, “The results suggest that PFOA and PFHxS may cause weight gain among people with obesity in weight loss programs. These pollutants deserve attention in public health efforts to control the obesity pandemic.”
ANH-USA has been sounding the alarm for some time that an underlying cause of many chronic diseases that doesn’t get enough attention is environmental exposures to toxic chemicals. We reported on the work of Joseph Pizzorno, ND, who found that environmental toxins play a far more important role in diabetes, for instance, than sugar consumption and lack of exercise. Consider that obese people in the bottom 10% of toxin load do not have an increased risk of diabetes; 30% of lean people with a high toxin load will develop diabetes. These findings are a true testament to the havoc these chemicals are wreaking on the human body.
This is a huge problem. Obesity prevalence among US adults is almost 42 percent. Obesity drives other chronic diseases that are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. If we cannot curb the chemicals that help create this public health disaster, we will never come out of this epidemic of chronic disease.
Banning PFAS chemicals would be a major step in the right direction. The more we learn about PFAS contamination, the worse it gets, from the list of health effects they cause to the pervasiveness of the contamination. From just last week, there were reports finding PFAS in contact lenses and in food pesticides. We’ve reported on PFAS being found in food packages, drinking water, vegetables, honey, dairy, prescription drugs, dental floss, and a huge swath of consumer products.
We’ve written about the dangers of these chemicals many times. US regulatory agencies have proven themselves incapable or unwilling to meaningfully address the extensive contamination of our world and bodies with PFAS. The EPA’s approach to PFAS has largely been to monitor and report. The few actions that have been taken have mostly been limited to just two chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, which have been voluntarily phased out of production in the US, but, due to their persistence in the environment, still show up in water systems, food, dust and consumer products.
The EPA just proposed enforceable limits on six PFAS chemicals in Americans’ drinking water, including a limit on PFOS and PFOA of 4 parts per trillion (ppt). When these standards become final, public water systems will be required to monitor for these six PFAS, notify the public of the levels detected in water, and reduce the levels of these PFAS in drinking water if they exceed the standards. Note, though, that when the agency released interim guidelines in June 2022, they admitted that recent research “indicate[s] that some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero.”
In other words, there is no safe level of these two PFAS chemicals in drinking water! Further, drinking water is just one route of exposure. We’re exposed to PFAS in our diet, dust, carpet, upholstery, and a multitude of consumer products in addition to drinking water. We also don’t know the synergistic negative effects of long-term exposure to a cocktail of PFAS.
In fact, there’s a lot we don’t know about the effects of extensive PFAS contamination. There are thousands of PFAS circulating in the environment and in our bodies, yet we know very little about their effects or long-term impacts. For these reasons, scientists in the field have called for the EPA to regulate PFAS as a class rather than take the usual approach of dealing with each distinct chemical at a time, which clearly isn’t practical when there are 9,000 different PFAS chemicals. Less than one percent of all PFAS have been tested for their hazardous effects. It’s taken the EPA decades to even think about setting enforceable drinking water standards for just two PFAS chemicals; the agency’s current approach of assessing one chemical at a time is akin to doing nothing. And even if the EPA restricts or bans one chemical, industry can simply move on to the next one.
PFAS are extremely persistent in the environment due to their molecular structure, with studies estimating that some PFAS have lifetimes in the thousands of years. This persistence and accumulation increase the possibility of harm. We have enough evidence to know that these chemicals pose a real threat to our health. If we hope to stem the tide of contamination that threatens our health, the health of our children, and the health of the environment, we cannot play PFAS whack-a-mole; we must ban these chemicals as a class.
Look out in the coming weeks for the release of an ANH pilot study on the presence of PFAS in conventional and organic kale samples.
Action Alert! Write to Congress and the EPA, urging them to ban PFAS as a class to protect public health. Please send your message immediately.