Middle-aged women who have greater blood concentrations of toxic “forever chemicals” may be at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, a new study has found.
These women were more likely to become hypertensive than those who had lower levels of the compounds, also called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), according to a study published on Monday in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.
Notorious for their presence in jet-fuel firefighting foam and in industrial discharge, PFAS are a set of synthetic chemicals found in a wealth of household products, including nonstick pans, waterproof apparel and cosmetics.
“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,” lead author Ning Ding, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said in a statement.
Thus far, scientists have demonstrated a “probable link” between PFAS and diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension. This latest study extends that last category to another subset of women.
“Women seem to be particularly vulnerable when exposed to these chemicals,” Ding said.
“Our study is the first to examine the association between ‘forever chemicals’ and hypertension in middle-aged women,” she continued. “Exposure may be an underappreciated risk factor for women’s cardiovascular disease risk.”
Ding and her colleagues drew these conclusions by harnessing data from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation-Multi-Pollutant Study, an initiative launched in 2016 to investigate the impacts of multiple environmental chemical exposures on mid-life women from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The researchers examined blood concentrations of PFAS and the risk of high blood pressure among more than 1,000 women, ages 45 to 56 years old, who had normal blood pressure when they enrolled in the study.
The women were tracked almost annually from 1999 to 2017 and were recruited from five sites across the country, according to the authors.
Of the study’s 11,722 “person-years” — the number of years multiplied by the members of an affected population — 470 women developed high blood pressure, the scientists found.
Women with higher levels of specific types of PFAS, of which there are thousands, were more likely to develop hypertension, according to the study.
Those who fell in the highest one-third for levels of PFOS, PFOA, and PFOS precursor EtFOSAA incurred 42 percent, 47 percent, and 42 percent greater risk of developing high blood pressure, respectively, compared to women in the lowest one-third.
Women in the highest one-third for all seven types of PFAS investigated had a 71 percent increased risk of developing high blood pressure, the authors found.
“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,” senior author Sung Kyun Park, an associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said in a statement.
“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,” Park added.