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Tea and Pork Linked to Higher PFAS Concentrations

Common processed foods, especially when prepared in restaurants, may increase the levels of harmful "forever chemicals" in the blood, a study finds.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), often dubbed as "forever chemicals," are toxic chemicals that build up in our bodies and are associated with multiple conditions, including certain cancers.

PFAS are commonly found in cleaning and personal care products, nonstick cookware, and other household items, as well as drinking water systems.

A new study published in Environment International examined how certain foods and individual consumption patterns affect the PFAS concentrations in the blood.

The researchers looked at the data of over 700 young adults, mostly Hispanics, from two cohorts. Participants answered a series of questions about their diet and gave blood samples, which were tested for levels of various PFAS.

Eighty-eight participants in the first cohort had their dietary consumption and PFAS levels analyzed for four years.

The study identified tea, pork, and hot dogs as foods most strongly associated with higher concentrations of PFAS in the blood.

The researchers, however, were unable to determine which types of tea — sweetened, unsweetened, or artificially sweetened — were associated with higher PFAS levels.

Bread, soup broths, sports drinks, nut and seed butter, snack chips, and bottled water were also linked to increased levels of "forever chemicals."

"We're starting to see that even foods that are metabolically quite healthy can be contaminated with PFAS. These findings highlight the need to look at what constitutes 'healthy' food in a different way," Hailey Hampson, a doctoral student in the Keck School of Medicine's Division of Environmental Health and the study's lead author, said in a statement.

Preparing meals at home appears to limit the exposure to "forever chemicals," likely because packaging may be a source of PFAS.

For instance, processed foods like burritos, fajitas, tacos, French fries, burgers, and pizza were associated with lower levels of PFAS when prepared at home than at restaurants and fast-food restaurants.

Where do PFAS come from?

The researchers say PFAS may accumulate in foods through several exposure routes.

For instance, tea bags are primarily made of paper, and paper products are a major contamination source for PFAS. The exposure may occur due to the brewing process with water at high temperatures.

Processed meats such as sausages, bacon, and hot dogs may accumulate PFAS through contact during processing or cooking.

Meanwhile, unprocessed pork and beef may come from animals that were raised in PFAS-contaminated areas or were packaged in grease-resistance packaging that contains "forever chemicals."

Why are "forever chemicals" dangerous?

Studies in both humans and animals examined only a small number of at least 5,000 PFAS. The existing evidence suggests that high exposure to "forever chemicals" may cause:

  • Increases in cholesterol levels
  • Changes in liver enzymes
  • Small decreases in birth weight
  • Lower antibody response to some vaccines
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia
  • Kidney and testicular cancer
  • Increase the risk of thyroid disease
  • Decrease fertility in women

The study findings highlight the need for public monitoring of beverages, processed meats, and food packaging containers in an effort to reduce PFAS exposure.


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