“Forever Chemicals” Change Youth Development

New research, published last month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, demonstrates that potentially toxic chemicals found in everyday products are altering the hormonal and metabolic pathways needed for human growth and development in teens.

What are “forever chemicals”?

Researchers analyzed study samples from young children, teens and young adults, all of whom had a mixture of different synthetic compounds called PFAS in their blood. PFAS are used in a broad range of consumer products, such as food packaging, nonstick pans, waterproof clothing, carpeting and cosmetic products. PFAS are often called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down easily in the environment. Some PFAS can last 8 years in our bodies, leading to an accumulation over time. Because of their widespread use and long lifespan, PFAS can be found in drinking water and food sources across the world. In the United States, an estimated 200 million people have drinking water with PFAS levels considerably higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2022 safe drinking water health advisory levels.

What did the new research discover?

The study determined that exposure to a combination of PFAS disrupted lipid and amino acid metabolism and altered thyroid hormone function in children. Results also showed that if the child had a combination of six PFAS there was a more pronounced impact on metabolism and hormone function than if the child had any one alone.

How do these metabolic and hormone changes impact youth?

For youth to properly develop, the thyroid makes two key hormones that play a role in blood pressure control and how the body makes and uses protein, fats and carbohydrates which then affects every cell in the body. Amino acids are needed to make enzymes, hormones, proteins and other needed molecules, while lipids control how vitamins are stored, assist in hormone production and regulate how fat is turned into energy and used or stored.

These metabolic and hormonal changes can be indicative of a number of health problems in the future for children, such as an increased susceptibility to obesity, insulin resistance, risk for fatty liver disease and potentially cancer. Some of the most studied PFAS have also been linked to high cholesterol, kidney and other cancers, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease or dysfunction and many more health conditions.

Weren’t PFAS banned?

Public concern led to a commitment by manufacturers in 2008 to phase out use of two older PFAS versions in American products; however, studies are now finding the same health impacts from some of the newer PFAS versions. In addition, foreign manufacturers are still using the older PSAS.

What can parents and caregivers do?

There are ways to reduce exposure to PFAS:

  • purchase a water filter for your tap water
  • avoid stain-resistant carpets and waterproofing sprays
  • use cast-iron, stainless steel, glass or enamel cookware instead of nonstick
  • avoid products with “fluoro” ingredients
  • cook more meals with fresh foods at home, and boycott food packaging
  • avoid cosmetics labeled as “wear-resistant” or “long-lasting”
  • choose uncoated nylon or silk dental floss or one that is coated in natural wax

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