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Preventing and Addressing PFAS "Forever Chemicals" Exposure

Preventing and Addressing PFAS "Forever Chemicals" Exposure

Were you aware the holistic health community has several strategies to address different types of toxicity, including the accumulation of health-damaging "forever chemicals?" As medical doctors and holistic healthcare practitioners, we can help patients proactively address concerns about the group of toxic compounds known as PFAS, or "forever chemicals."


PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of compounds that are commonly called "forever chemicals" because they are incredibly hardy, resisting degradation even with heat, cold, wind, and rain. Due to their resistance to breaking down in the natural environment, these compounds can enter water sources and the food chain and build up in human bodies. They can even be absorbed through the skin.


Unfortunately, there is a rather direct way PFAS enter the food chain; they are used in cookware to create a nonstick coating and are often used in packaging materials for take-away foods. PFAS are also used in many areas of consumer products, such as shampoo, cosmetics, electronics, cookware, and food packaging (1). Carpets can be coated in PFAS to make them stain-resistant due to their ability to repel oils.


It's estimated that 97-99% of people in the US have been exposed to the forever chemicals known as PFAS (2, 3). Studies over the years have proven that PFAS can bioaccumulate (build up in the body), can be toxic to humans and animals, and increase the risk of poor health (4). Indeed, the concerns about PFAS began decades ago, shortly after their creation. While the FDA was initially very lenient with PFAS, there are now efforts to do more testing and to share the results with consumers (5). As evidence of toxicity mounts, a voluntary phase-out of some types of PFAS has already begun (6).


As technology improves, the strategies to break down PFAS in the environment have increased in number and efficacy. Rendering PFAS harmless has been a focus of environmental science researchers for quite some time. Yet, while we wait for technology to catch up in that department, what do we know about the health impact of PFAS, and what can we do to protect ourselves?



Who Is Most at Risk?


Some populations have higher health risks from PFAS buildup than others:

Pregnant and Lactating Women - Pregnant women often drink more water, increasing their likelihood of exposure through contaminated water. PFAS can be distributed through breast milk (1).


Children - Younger children who play on the floor frequently can be exposed to PFAS through coatings on carpets, household cleaners on surfaces, or imbued in toys (1).


Working With PFAS - Consistent exposure through the job site is a deep concern (1). While manufacturers producing or using PFAS have stringent safety protocols, the proximity and frequency of handling increases risks. Firefighters may also be exposed to PFAS in the flame-killing foams used to put out fires.


Living in Certain Places in the US - Living near a facility that creates or uses PFAS increases the risk of exposure. Already, PFAS have entered the water cycle, contaminating drinking water in many places in the US. Unfortunately, California is a hotspot for PFAS in drinking water (7).



Potential Harm from PFAS


Many unknowns exist about the potential harms of PFAS. However, studies are ongoing. Like many toxins, the risks incurred depend on personal internal chemistry and cumulative dosage. There is strong evidence in the scientific literature for (1, 8):


  • Increased chances of particular cancers (prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers) 

  • Lowered fertility in women

  • High blood pressure (pregnant women)

  • Lowered birth weight in babies of exposed mothers

  • Compromised immune function

  • Thyroid damage

  • Disrupted hormone function (including weight gain)

  • Postponed development of children; lowered age of puberty

  • Liver tissue damage



Tapwater is a Common Source of PFAS Exposure


Since PFAS persist in the environment and accumulate once created, soil and water contamination is widespread (8). Drinking water is a frequent contributor to PFAS exposure (1), and it is a big enough problem that the EPA addressed it in 2023 by proposing testing, guidelines for monitoring, and tolerable limits (9). Indeed, there is an ongoing effort by the EPA to establish "Maximum Contaminant Levels" in public water systems (8). A map showing known PFAS water contamination across the United States is quite sobering (7).



Is There a Blood Test for PFAS Exposure?


While there are ways to test for PFAS in blood, they are not widely available in doctors' offices. Although the EPA reports that levels of two of the most notorious PFAS chemicals known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfate (PFOS) have gone down since the removal from many consumer products, there are still nearly 15,000 known PFAS chemicals (10). With this many PFAS compounds, testing methods need to be improved. Currently, you would have to be tested for each compound, which is not practical. Since many studies have shown that humans have PFAS in their blood, it is assumed that most people have had at least some exposure.



How Long Do PFAS Stay in the Blood?


Four of the most studied PFAS have half-lives of 2 to 8 years in the body (11). This means it could take 2-8 years to break down half the amount of the compounds present in the body. The particular type of PFAS, the amount of exposure, and individual chemistries can significantly influence how long it takes to purge the body of PFAS if there is no further exposure. It could take decades - or just a handful of years.



Two Steps to Dealing with PFAS


Since it can be assumed that PFAS exposure is highly likely, what can be done about it? 


Currently, there is no known "cure" for PFAS exposure- nothing that would safely and immediately decompose PFAS and allow the body to release them. So, practical measures consist of reducing exposure and helping the body deal with PFAS.



Reducing PFAS Exposure


The best thing you can do is avoid getting PFAS in your system in the first place. There are factories and industrial settings that will have more PFAS in the surrounding soil and air, so where you live can make a difference. While any one instance of exposure is not likely to harm your health, the more time spent in the presence of PFAS, the greater dosage someone receives.


1. Filtering and Distilling Water - One of the best things you can do for your health is to ensure you have excellent quality drinking water. You need water every day, so having contaminant-free water is a way to protect your health. As mentioned before, many municipal (and well) water supplies are contaminated with PFAS and other harsh chemicals (12), so filtering your water is highly recommended.


Find out if PFAS have been detected in your municipal water supply. If you use well water, you can find a water testing kit for the most common PFAS (PFOA and PFOS). 


Granular activated carbon (GAC), nanofiltration, and reverse osmosis are all filtering technologies that are acknowledged to reduce PFAS concentrations (8). Any gravity-fed, under-the-counter or whole-house filtration that contains these technologies will significantly reduce PFAS levels and many other contaminants as well, but question suppliers of these filtration systems directly and ask for lab results or written information.


Distilling water is a fantastic way to eliminate most toxic chemicals in water, including many cancer-causing substances. Distilling water involves boiling the water, which turns it into steam. The steam escapes the distiller as clean water, while contaminants that have a higher boiling point than water stay in the distiller. Many countertop distillers on the market take up little space and produce about a gallon of clean water. Check distiller specifics to confirm it reduces PFAS. It is easy to work this device into a nightly routine so fresh, clean water is ready for use in the morning.


Caveat: Distillers and Reverse Osmosis systems remove many health-giving minerals in water. If you choose this method, add trace minerals or (unsweetened) electrolytes back to the water.


2. Choose ceramic, stainless steel, or cast iron cookware. Beware, some cookware may claim it's made without PFOA (a type of PFAS), but testing showed they do have measurable amounts of PFOA and multiple other PFAS (13). Traditional black or dark gray nonstick pots and pans are particularly suspect and should be researched thoroughly. Stainless steel, cast iron, and ceramic-coated items can be made less sticky by adding a quick layer of healthy fat (such as high-heat coconut or avocado oil) before cooking.


3. Be aware of food packaging. For example, you can greatly reduce exposure by popping popcorn in a pot with a lid in some high-heat avocado oil. Yes, tossing a bag of popcorn in the microwave is easy, but the bags can be a significant source of PFAS. The bags are often treated with PFAS so they don't break down or catch fire with heat or oil while being microwaved. Unfortunately, manufacturers are not compelled to inform consumers what chemicals are used in the packaging. A 2019 study showed that people who frequently ate microwaved popcorn had higher concentrations of PFAS in their blood (14). Popcorn can be a healthy snack if you cook it yourself in a healthy, high-heat oil.


4. Be wary of consumer items labeled "stain-resistant, waterproof, or nonstick” (15). Items are often coated with PFAS to lend them the properties of being easy to clean, resistant to water, or resistant to stains. Unfortunately, this warning extends to waterproof cosmetics, waterproof clothing, and stain-resistant carpets.



Helping the Body Deal With PFAS


Once efforts have been made to remove known sources of PFAS in your environment, the next thing to do is help the body efficiently detox. In practical terms, anything that helps the liver break down toxins and expel them will either directly or indirectly help. Currently, no known remedy for breaking down PFAS in the human body exists. Since research in this area is young, doctors cannot suggest a commonly accepted protocol to patients. 


However, there are numerous ways of reducing the overall toxin burden on the body, which frees the body's natural mechanisms to deal with PFAS buildup. There are multiple strategies to help the body break down unwanted chemicals and eliminate them (the process known as detoxification) and can be an important tool in improving and maintaining good health.


1. Saunas - Sweating is one of the best routes out of the body for toxic chemicals. While it has not been proven that saunas can help us eliminate PFAS, saunas can help reduce amounts of other toxins. Regular use of saunas eliminates more toxins, allowing the body's immune system, liver, and other automatic detoxifying mechanisms to address PFAS. Infrared saunas are particularly beneficial to human health and are easy to use at home (16). 


Note - It is important to pay particular attention to hydration and electrolyte replacement if saunas are used regularly.


2. Toxin Binders & Nutritional Supplementation - Many known oral supplements bind toxins to them and escort them out of the body. Activated charcoal is one of the most popular binders; it's even used in hospitals to reduce the impact of drug overdoses (17). The activated charcoal can't be digested, so any toxins that bind to it in the stomach get eliminated along with the charcoal. Note that activated charcoal is typically made from burned coconut shells - it's not the charcoal that is used for barbeques. The powder from burned coconut shells creates a negative charge on the surface of the charcoal that attracts and binds toxins with a positive charge. 


Caution: Activated charcoal can attract medications, metal-based vitamins, minerals, and health-giving substances. A physician should suggest activated charcoal's appropriateness, timing, and duration, especially if you are taking heart medications. If activated charcoal is taken for long periods, nutritional supplements may be needed to go with it. 


2. IV Ozone Therapy with Ultraviolet Blood Irradiation (UVBI) - A superb general therapy that helps decrease the toxic load on the body is ozone therapy with ultraviolet blood irradiation (UVBI). This exciting therapy involves drawing one's own blood out of the body, exposing it to ozone and ultraviolet light, filtering it, and then returning the blood to your body. Ozone breaks up microorganisms by providing oxygen, while ultraviolet light degrades the DNA of microorganisms - all while leaving blood cells alone. 


There is some evidence that ultraviolet light can help degrade environmental PFAS (outside of the body) when in the presence of iodide (18).


Although there are insufficient studies to show that UV light or IV ozone breaks down PFAS in blood, these two therapies have existed long enough to establish a solid safety profile (19). Indeed, IV ozone therapy with UVBI is often recommended when there has been difficulty establishing a medical diagnosis or where there are high levels of inflammation. As mentioned earlier, reducing the overall toxin load and improving health allows the body’s natural mechanisms to eliminate all toxins more efficiently.



Prevention + Protection


Prevention plus protection is a powerful combination for many health concerns. Eliminating sources of PFAS contamination while helping the body detox efficiently is a combination that improves health outcomes. If you have questions about how to get started, please make an appointment. Our medical doctors, steeped in holistic therapies and advanced diagnostics knowledge, can customize a program to supercharge your health!


 

Jonathan Vellinga, M.D.

Jonathan Vellinga, MD is an Internal Medicine practitioner with a broad interest in medicine. He graduated Summa cum laude from Weber State University in Clinical Laboratory Sciences and completed his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin.​


Upon graduation from medical school, he completed his Internal Medicine residency at the University of Michigan. Dr. Vellinga is board-certified with the American Board of Internal Medicine and a member of the Institute for Functional Medicine.


951-383-4333


 

Sources


1. Our current understanding of the human health and environmental risks of PFAS | US EPA. (2023, June 7). US EPA. https://www.epa.gov/pfas/our-current-understanding-human-health-and-environmental-risks-pfas


2. PFAS Chemicals | Environmental Working Group. (2023, March 14). EWG. https://www.ewg.org/areas-focus/toxic-chemicals/pfas-chemicals


3. Lewis, R., Johns, L. E., & Meeker, J. D. (2015). Serum Biomarkers of Exposure to Perfluoroalkyl Substances in Relation to Serum Testosterone and Measures of Thyroid Function among Adults and Adolescents from NHANES 2011–2012. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(6), 6098–6114. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph120606098


4. Silva, A. R., Duarte, M. S., Alves, M. M., & Pereira, L. (2022). Bioremediation of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) by anaerobic digestion: effect of PFAS on different trophic groups and methane production accelerated by carbon materials. Molecules, 27(6), 1895. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules27061895


5. Nutrition, C. F. F. S. a. A. (2023, May 31). FDA announcements on PFAS and other U.S. government information. U.S. Food And Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/process-contaminants-food/fda-announcements-pfas-and-other-us-government-information


6. Nutrition, C. F. F. S. a. A. (2020, July 31). FDA announces the voluntary Phase-Out by industry of certain PFAS used in food packaging. U.S. Food And Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-announces-voluntary-phase-out-industry-certain-pfas-used-food-packaging


7. Ewg. (n.d.). Interactive Map: PFAS contamination crisis: New data show 4,621 sites in 50 states. EWG © 2024. https://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/pfas_contamination/map/


8. EPA - Office of Water. (2023, March 29). Proposed PFAS National Primary Drinking Water Regulation. EPA - Safe Drinking Water Act. Retrieved February 2, 2024, from https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2023-04/PFAS%20NPDWR%20Public%20Presentation_Full%20Technical%20Presentation_3.29.23_Final.pdf


9. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) | US EPA. (2023, September 22). US EPA. https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas


10. Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). (n.d.). National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pfc


11. National Academies Press (US). (2022, July 28). PFAS exposure reduction. Guidance on PFAS Exposure, Testing, and Clinical Follow-Up - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK584691/


12. Flamer, B. K. (2023, August 8). How to get PFAS out of your drinking water. Consumer Reports. https://www.consumerreports.org/water-contamination/how-to-get-pfas-out-of-your-drinking-water-a7303943293/


13. Loria, K. (2022, October 26). You can’t always trust claims on ‘Non-Toxic’ cookware. Consumer Reports. https://www.consumerreports.org/toxic-chemicals-substances/you-cant-always-trust-claims-on-non-toxic-cookware-a4849321487/


14. With PFAS in packaging, how safe is microwave popcorn? - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center. (n.d.). https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=6&contentid=1657902589


15. Blum, A., Bǎlan, S. A., Scheringer, M., Trier, X., Goldenman, G., Cousins, I. T., Diamond, M. L., Fletcher, T., Higgins, C. P., Lindeman, A. E., Peaslee, G. F., De Voogt, P., Wang, Z., & Weber, R. (2015). The Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASS). Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(5). https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1509934


16.TCIM. (2022, January 18). Can saunas really help you become healthier? TCIM. https://www.tcimedicine.com/post/can-saunas-really-help-you-become-healthier


17. Huizen, J. (2024, January 23). What are the benefits of activated charcoal? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322609


18. Ogasa, N. (2022, June 3). Just 3 ingredients can quickly destroy widely used PFAS ‘forever chemicals.’ Science News. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/pfas-forever-chemicals-uv-iodide-perfluoroalkyl-polyfluoroalkyl-sulfite


19. TCIM. (2022, April 19). Can using ozone and UVB therapy aid healing? TCIM. https://www.tcimedicine.com/post/can-using-ozone-and-uvb-therapy-aid-healing

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