Guarding Our Health: Navigating the Threat of PFAS Exposure and Building a Safer Community

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of persistent chemical pollutants that have gained attention due to their potential health impacts. PFAS exposure occurs through various sources, including consumer products like waterproof and nonstick items, household cleaners, clothes, dental floss, in food and food packaging, in 45% of our water supply and more. In recent years, concerns about PFAS exposure and its harms have come to the forefront.

In the United States, the dangers of PFAS exposure were highlighted by a lawsuit involving a DuPont factory in West Virginia, which dumped PFAS waste into the environment, contaminating drinking water and air. The subsequent study revealed a “probable link” between a specific PFAS variant and health issues like high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and certain cancers. Research conducted by scientists such as Grandjean and Weihe has shown that PFAS can interfere with immune responses, potentially reducing the effectiveness of routine vaccinations. However, broader concerns arise due to the numerous health conditions associated with PFAS exposure, including endocrine disruption, immune dysfunction, liver disease, asthma, infertility, and neurobehavioral problems.

Despite the widespread presence of PFAS and their potential health risks, many individuals, including medical professionals, remain unaware or unconcerned about the issue. The complexity of PFAS-related health problems, coupled with their prevalence in everyday products, makes it paramount to address this issue now. In fact, a report published in The Lancet in 2022 estimated that nine million people die each year from chronic diseases caused by environmental toxins. The connection between environmental exposures and chronic diseases emphasizes the need for prevention and recognition of the role of pollutants like PFAS in disease development.

To address the challenges posed by PFAS exposure, it is essential to raise awareness about their potential harms and promote strategies to reduce contact with these chemicals. Researchers continue to investigate the long-term impacts of PFAS on human health, particularly as exposed individuals transition from childhood to adulthood. Could PFAS chemicals be partly responsible for the increased incidence of multiple cancers in people under 50, and especially between 30-39? By understanding the breadth of health conditions associated with PFAS and taking proactive steps to minimize exposure, individuals and communities can work towards better overall health and well-being.

To lower our exposure to PFAS and protect our health, here are three things we can do:

  1. Choose Safer Products: Look for household items that are labeled as PFAS-free or made with alternative materials. Choose stainless steel or cast-iron cookware instead of nonstick pans, and try natural cleaning products without these chemicals.
  2. Healthy Eating Habits: While it’s tough to avoid PFAS entirely in our food, we can make better choices. Eating fresh, whole foods and reducing the consumption of fast food or packaged goods can help lower exposure.
  3. Clean Drinking Water: If you’re worried about your drinking water, consider using a water filter that is certified to remove PFAS. This can be especially important if you live near industrial areas or places where PFAS contamination has been found.

By being aware of PFAS and taking these steps, we can minimize our exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals and promote better health for ourselves and our families.

Unveiling the Hidden Dangers: Microplastics and Their Potential Harms to Human Health

In recent years, the widespread prevalence of microplastics has emerged as a growing concern. These tiny plastic particles, measuring less than 5mm in size, have infiltrated various ecosystems, including our oceans, rivers, or bodies, and even the air we breathe. While their impact on the environment is well-documented, the potential health risks posed by microplastics to human beings have raised significant alarm bells among scientists and researchers.

Several studies have shown that certain types of microplastics, such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), which are known endocrine disruptors, can leach from plastic particles. These chemicals have the potential to mimic or interfere with natural hormones in the body, leading to disruptions in the endocrine system. While human exposure to microplastics is widespread, it is challenging to establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between microplastics and endocrine-related health issues.

One study examined the presence of microplastics in human stool samples. The study found microplastics in all the samples analyzed, indicating that humans are exposed to microplastics through ingestion. Another study analyzed the presence of microplastics in human tissues, including the colon and another study found MPs in lung tissue. It is estimated that on average humans consume a credit card worth of microplastics on a weekly basis.

There is a more definitive harmful effect of microplastics when we look to the animal studies. Research suggests that exposure to microplastics and can impact inflammation-related disorders. An animal study conducted at the University of California exposed mice to various concentrations of microplastic particles commonly in the environment, including polyethylene and polystyrene, and found that there was a significant increase in inflammation markers, indicating a potential correlation between microplastics exposure and inflammation-related health issues. The study suggested that microplastics may play a role in the development or exacerbation of conditions such as asthma, allergies, cardiovascular diseases, and autoimmune disorders, which linked with chronic inflammation.

Microplastics have even been found to disrupt the gut microbiota.  A study explored the impact of microplastics on the gut microbiota—a complex community of microorganisms residing in our digestive system that plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. The researchers exposed zebrafish to environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastics commonly found in marine ecosystems. The results revealed a significant disruption in the composition and diversity of the zebrafish gut microbiota. This disruption was accompanied by microbiota dysbiosis, metabolomic dysregulation, and oxidative stress. Disruptions in gut microbiota have been associated with a wide range of health issues, including metabolic disorders, immune dysfunction, and mental health disorders, suggesting that microplastics may have the potential to disturb the delicate balance of our gut microbiota and contribute to various health complications.

Microplastics undergo various changes in the digestive system and appear to be different in structure when they reach the colon. A recent study found that consuming microplastics can alter the composition of the microbial community in the human colon. The researchers suggest that some bacteria in the colon may attach to the surface of microplastics, leading to the formation of biofilms. These findings indicate that microplastics can have negative effects on digestive health. Given the growing exposure to microplastics in the food and beverages we consume, it is important to investigate how plastics affect the functioning of the gut microbiome and whether they can be broken down by digestion and intestinal bacteria.

While these studies provide valuable insights into the presence of microplastics in humans, they do not establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship between microplastics and health issues. Further research is needed to understand the potential long-term effects of microplastics on the endocrine system and human health. Controlled human studies, along with more comprehensive monitoring and analytical techniques, are essential for drawing more definitive conclusions.

As the research in this field continues to progress, it is crucial to prioritize measures to reduce microplastic pollution and limit human exposure. By minimizing the production and consumption of single-use plastics and promoting sustainable waste management practices, we can contribute to a healthier environment and potentially reduce the potential risks associated with microplastics to the endocrine system and human health.

Reducing exposure to microplastics is essential for both personal and environmental well-being. Here are three simple ways to minimize your exposure to microplastics:

  1. Choose reusable alternatives: Use reusable items instead of single-use plastics whenever possible. Replace disposable plastic water bottles with a reusable stainless steel or glass bottle. Carry a reusable shopping bag instead of relying on plastic bags. Store food in glass containers. By choosing reusable options, you reduce the need for single-use plastics that can break down into microplastics over time.
  2. Be mindful of clothing choices: Synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and acrylic shed microplastic fibers when washed. These fibers eventually find their way into water bodies. Consider opting for clothing made from natural materials such as cotton, linen, or wool. If you have synthetic garments, use a laundry bag designed to catch microfibers or consider using a washing machine filter designed to reduce microplastic release.
  3. Avoid personal care products with microbeads: Many personal care products, such as facial scrubs, body washes, and toothpaste, contain tiny plastic particles called microbeads. These microbeads can enter water systems and harm aquatic life. Check the ingredient labels of your personal care products and avoid products that contain ingredients like polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), which indicate the presence of microbeads. Instead, choose products with natural exfoliants like salt, sugar, or apricot seed powder.

By incorporating these simple practices into your daily life, you can significantly reduce your exposure to microplastics and contribute to a healthier environment.

Photo: Close-up of microplastics. Credit – pcess609 Getty Images / iStockphoto

Ultra-Processed Foods May Increase Cancer Risk

A new study published in the British Medical Journal reported that individuals who eat more highly processed foods have higher odds of developing cancer than their counterparts who eat less processed foods. In fact, the risk went up to 12 percent in the group consuming the most highly processed foods. Although correlational in nature, the study was a prospective study conducted in just over 100,000 individuals over an 8-year period of time. Correlation (when two things are associated) does not equal causation (when we know that one things causes another), but this is not the first time processed foods have been linked with cancer. The association may be due to a number of factors including the poor nutritional value of the food, dietary constituents such as sugar that may lead to inflammation, and additives that in and of themselves may be carcinogenic.

Community Recipes

Pea and Asparagus Salad

A talented cook and friend, Mark Dykes, created this recipe. It is so good that at one point we were eating it once a week! We keep the onions separate if we eat it over several days and add them as we go. The onions are also terrific in eggs, tacos, or just about anything.

This dish can be vegan or vegetarian, is high in fiber, and a good source of vegetable protein.

These amounts can be adjusted to personal taste.

1-2 handfuls of washed arugula

1 bunch washed fresh chopped mint

1 bag of frozen green peas – cooked for 1-2 minutes in boiling water

1 bunch chopped raw asparagus – washed and tough ends removed
and sliced in ½ inch pieces (you can steam them lightly if you prefer)

Parmesan to taste – shaved or grated – optional
½ a red onion thinly sliced and soaked 15-30 min. in rice wine vinegar

Put onions in a bowl and cover with rice wine vinegar. Let soak for 15-30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the rest of the ingredients. Add olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Combine desired quantity of soaked onions to the bowl and mix.