The silent threat: how PFAS chemicals impact women, pregnancy, and human development

Michael Bartlett

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on August 01st, 2023

The initial study on the impact of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances ) on female fertility reveals that women with elevated levels of these persistent chemicals in their bloodstream experience a 40% reduced likelihood of conceiving within a year of attempting to become pregnant.

PFAS are synthetic chemicals found in numerous everyday products due to their resistance to heat, water, and oil. Commonly used in non-stick cookware, food packaging, water-resistant clothing, and more, PFAS have become nearly ubiquitous in our environment. They are notorious for their persistence and ability to accumulate in the human body, raising concerns about potential health risks, especially during vulnerable stages like pregnancy and early childhood.

PFAS chemicals possess three significant traits that contribute to their environmental persistence and widespread contamination. First, PFAS can take up to a thousand years to break down in the environment, making them "forever chemicals." Second, these substances can easily spread from places of manufacturing, use, or disposal, rapidly polluting the broader environment. Lastly, PFAS are toxic and have been linked to severe health impacts, making it essential to limit their presence to protect public health.

The role of PFAS in our biology

One of the ways PFAS chemicals affect our bodies is by mimicking fatty acids - the essential building blocks of fat present in our bodies and the foods we consume. This resemblance can lead to metabolic disruptions and create imbalances in our systems. Furthermore, PFAS chemicals act as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), interfering with hormonal systems and causing adverse health effects.

PFAS exposure and miscarriage risk

Research has unveiled alarming findings regarding PFAS exposure and its impact on pregnancy outcomes. Women with the highest levels of PFAS in their cells have been found to face an 80% to 120% higher risk of miscarriage. This heightened risk highlights the critical need to address PFAS exposure during pregnancy to protect maternal and fetal health.

Neurological and developmental concerns

Aside from the health issues related to pregnancy, PFAS chemicals also raise concerns about their effects on neurological development. Similar to other endocrine-disrupting chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and certain pesticides, PFAS has been associated with nervous system defects and developmental problems. Such concerns include reduced muscle tone and response, indicating potential long-term impacts on children's cognitive and physical growth.

Pregnancy and the implications of PFAS exposure

As the first known study on the impact of PFAS on female fertility reveals, women with higher levels of these chemicals in their blood face a 40% lower chance of conceiving within a year of trying to become pregnant. This startling finding highlights the urgent need to address PFAS exposure during pregnancy to ensure the health of both the mother and the developing fetus.

Moreover, PFAS chemicals can cross the placenta, exposing the developing baby to potential risks. Studies have associated PFAS exposure during pregnancy with increased incidences of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and fetal growth restriction. These complications can have lasting impacts on the health of both the mother and the child, emphasizing the critical importance of minimizing exposure to PFAS during this crucial period.

Child development and the perils of PFAS exposure

Beyond pregnancy, the consequences of PFAS exposure extend to early childhood and development. Studies have linked PFAS exposure during early life to adverse effects on children's cognitive, physical, and immune development. Children exposed to higher levels of PFAS may experience delayed milestones, reduced vaccine response, and impaired growth.

One of the troubling aspects of PFAS is their ability to act as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These substances can interfere with the endocrine system, disrupting hormonal regulation during critical developmental stages. Such disruptions can lead to long-term health issues and affect the overall well-being of children as they grow.

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