Cholesterol Drug Removes PFAS From Blood

Scientists say one of the oldest and safest prescription cholesterol-lowering drugs on the market can reduce PFAS levels in the bloodstream by 60%.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are linked to a multitude of health effects, from thyroid cancer to infertility. What's more, they are found virtually everywhere in the environment and are present at varying levels in the human body.

For example, it's estimated that over 98% of people in the United States have detectable levels of PFAS in their blood. And some research suggests that these forever chemicals can remain in the body for up to 10 years.

The good news is that government officials are working towards reducing forever chemicals. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed classifying nine forever chemicals as hazardous. Moreover, the White House and the EPA have allocated $5.8 billion to upgrade water distribution systems and reduce PFAS.

Still, this may be too little too late since forever chemicals have already made their way into humans. Though there are ways to reduce daily exposure to PFAS, researchers are looking for techniques to remove them from the blood, especially in those exposed to high levels.

In a study recently published in Environmental International, scientists may have found a simple solution for people with high PFAS levels — a cholesterol-lowering drug called cholestyramine.

To conduct the research, scientists from Denmark recruited 45 people with high PFAS levels in their blood. The participants took 4 grams of cholestyramine — an Anion Exchange Resin (AER) — three times per day for 12 weeks.

Cholestyramine is a prescription drug used to treat high cholesterol. It was FDA-approved in 1973 and is one of the oldest and safest cholesterol-lowering medications.

After 12 weeks of treatment, the participants experienced a significant reduction of forever chemicals in their blood. For example, serum perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) decreased by 60%, and PFHxS, PFOA, PFNA, and PFDA levels decreased from 15% to 44%.

Moreover, the participants did not experience any adverse side effects except mild gastrointestinal symptoms and headache.

"These highly statistically significant findings are groundbreaking, suggesting that PFAS elimination can be significantly enhanced with AER treatment, offering reassurance to highly exposed individuals," the study's authors wrote.

The scientists say that the drug likely removes PFAS, much like it removes cholesterol, by binding to these chemicals in the gut and preventing them from getting into the bloodstream. The bound chemicals pass through the digestive system and are excreted via a bowel movement.

The researchers note that other cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as colesevelam, may also work to remove forever chemicals from the body. Colesevelam may be a more tolerable treatment because it comes in pill form, unlike cholestyramine, which comes as a powder.

Although cholesterol-lowering drugs like cholestyramine may be an effective strategy for lowering PFAS in the blood, the study authors say more research is needed to determine if reducing PFAS also decreases adverse health effects associated with these chemicals.

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