Widespread Chemicals May Affect Cholesterol, Study Finds

A study by BU School of Public Health researchers, published ahead of print in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, suggests that polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs) may affect serum cholesterol levels in people.

The authors analyzed the relationship between serum concentrations of four PFCs-perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS)-and measures of cholesterol, body size and insulin resistance. Participants with PFOS, PFOA and PFNA levels in the top 25 percent of the study population had higher total and non-HDL cholesterol (which is primarily LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) than participants whose PFOS, PFOA, PFNA concentrations were in the lowest 25 percent.

Most previous studies of people with high PFC exposures have also reported positive associations, but the current study suggests that much lower PFC exposures experienced by typical U.S. adults may also affect cholesterol levels. The association was most striking for PFNA, with a 13.9 mg/dL difference in estimated serum cholesterol levels between people with the highest and lowest serum PFNA concentrations. In contrast, people with the highest levels of PFHxS, a PFC that has not been extensively studied, had lower total and non-HDL cholesterol than those with lower PFHxS concentrations.

The study found little evidence of an association between PFCs and body size or insulin resistance.

“Though these results are based on cross-sectional data and are exploratory, they are consistent with much of the human epidemiologic literature and indicate that PFCs may be exerting an effect on cholesterol at environmentally relevant exposures,” wrote first author Jessica Nelson, a doctoral candidate in environmental health, and colleagues. “Our study affirms the importance of investigating PFCs other than PFOS and PFOA, particularly as industrial uses of PFOS and PFOA decline and other PFCs are substituted.”

Other authors included Elizabeth Hatch, associate professor of epidemiology, and Tom Webster, associate professor of environmental health. This study was partially supported by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The full study is available on the Environmental Health Perspectives website.

Submitted by Lisa Chedekel

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