Exposure to “eternal chemicals” interferes with several critical biological processes – including fat and amino acid metabolism – in children and young adults, according to a new study.
Disrupting these processes can increase susceptibility to various diseases, such as developmental disabilities, cardiovascular disease, cancer and metabolic diseases like diabetes, according to the study published Wednesday in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Focusing on this age group was particularly important to the authors, as children and young adults go through key developmental milestones that can make them more vulnerable to toxic exposures.
This stage of life is also the time when many serious illnesses that manifest in adults begin to take hold, the researchers noted.
The compounds in question, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are already linked to diseases such as thyroid disease, testicular cancer and kidney cancer.
Famous for their ability to persist in the human body, water and soil, these synthetic compounds have become ubiquitous both in the environment and in everyday products.
“We found that exposure to a combination of PFAS not only disrupted lipid and amino acid metabolism, but also impaired thyroid hormone function,” said lead author Jesse Goodrich, of the Keck School of Medicine. from the University of Southern California, in a statement.
Goodrich and his colleagues had set out to explore the impacts of a mixture of PFAS – there are thousands of them – on biological processes in children and adolescents.
To do this, they used blood samples from 312 teenagers who participated in a “Latino Teenagers At Risk Study” and 137 children from the Southern California Children’s Health Study.
All samples contained a mixture of several common PFAS, including the chemicals PFOS, PFHxS, PFHpS, PFOA and PFNA, while more than 98% of participants also had PFDA in their blood, according to the study.
The researchers then developed a biostatistical method to measure thousands of natural chemicals in the blood to identify the impact of exposure to several types of PFAS on these compounds.
Their analysis showed that exposure to PFAS alters the way the body metabolizes lipids and amino acids – the building blocks of fat and protein, respectively – as well as thyroid hormone levels.
This latest finding was particularly important to Goodrich, who pointed to the critical role thyroid hormones play in growth and metabolism.
Changes in thyroid hormones can disrupt development during puberty and may increase the risk of developing diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer later in life, the authors warned.
“Our findings were surprising and have broad implications for policymakers trying to mitigate risk,” said Goodrich, who is an assistant professor of population science and public health at the Keck School.
Another important finding reported by the authors was that exposure to a mixture of PFAS, rather than just one type, fueled the disruption of these biological processes.
Almost all Americans, they warned, have detectable levels of several types of PFAS, which can be found in common household items like rainwear and food wrappers.
While some manufacturers have already started phasing out certain types of PFAS, researchers have argued that it might be important to regulate these substances as a class.
“We are really beginning to understand the range of effects these chemicals have on human health,” co-author Leda Chatzi, professor of population science and public health at the Keck School, said in a statement. .
“While current interventions have focused on phasing out the use of individual PFASs, such as PFOS and PFOA, this research shows why the focus should be on reducing exposure to all PFAS chemicals,” Chatzi added.