Consumption of tea, takeaways and hot dogs can come with a side of ‘forever chemicals’

Consumption of tea, takeaways and hot dogs can come with a side of ‘forever chemicals’

A new study has found that young people who follow a diet high in unsweetened tea, processed meats and prepared foods could increase their exposure to “forever chemicals.”

Changing these eating habits can lead to a noticeable decrease in the levels of these compounds, known as PFAS, that pollute their blood, according to the study published Monday in the journal Environment International.

“We are beginning to see that even metabolically healthy foods can be contaminated with PFAS,” lead author Hailey Hampson, a doctoral student at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, said in a statement.

“These findings highlight the need to look at what constitutes ‘healthy’ food in a different way,” Hampson added.

PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances), known to persist in the environment and the human body, have been linked to kidney cancer, thyroid disease, and other diseases.

While PFAS are most known for being found in certain types of firefighting and industrial vacuum foams, they are also found in many household and commercial products, such as nonstick pans and food packaging, as well as livestock and contaminated drinking water.

With this existing knowledge in mind, Hampson and a team of researchers explored how dietary choices can affect exposure levels in young people, with a particular focus on a subset of the Hispanic population.

They expressed particular interest in these individuals due to documented health disparities in this population, including a higher risk of developing non-communicable metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

The scientists focused their research on two multiethnic groups: a cohort of young Hispanic adults in the USC Children’s Health Study, and a nationally representative cohort from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The first group included 123 individuals, ages 17 to 22, who participated in the Children’s Health Study between 2014 and 2018, while the second group included 604 NHANES participants of similar ages from 2013 to 2018.

The young people answered a variety of questions about their diet, including how often they ate processed meats, dark green vegetables, breads, sports drinks, tea and milk.

They also indicated how often they ate foods prepared at home, at fast food establishments, and at non-fast food restaurants.

Participants in the Children’s Health Study gave blood samples during two visits, at about ages 20 and 24, while members of the NHANES group did so once, at about age 19, according to the study.

Looking at baseline versus follow-up visits in the USC data, scientists observed the strongest associations between PFAS concentrations and increased intake of tea and pork.

Just one additional serving of tea intake was associated with a 24.8% increase in a type of PFAS known as PFHxS, a 16.7% increase in PFHpS, and a 12.6% increase in PFNA.

Those who reported eating more pork saw a 13.4 percent rise in PFOA — one of the most studied and notorious types of PFAS.

The researchers observed similar associations in the NHANES cohort, where higher intakes of sausage and processed meat were associated with higher levels of PFNA and PFOA, respectively. They saw that the increase in tea consumption was linked to higher levels of PFOS, another common type of PFAS.

Scientists found that eating foods prepared at home has the opposite effect.

For every 200-gram increase in home-prepared foods, PFOS levels were 0.9 percent lower at baseline and 1.6 percent lower at follow-up in the USC group, according to the study.

The NHANES data yielded similar conclusions, the authors noted.

While restaurant and fast food versions of prepared foods were associated with increased PFAS levels in both groups, the scientists noted a greater association with fast food in the Children’s Health Study group.

“These findings suggest that fast food may provide higher levels of exposure to PFAS, which could be from grease-resistant food packaging containing PFAS,” they stated.

“Foods sourced from home were consistently associated with lower concentrations of PFAS,” the researchers added, while noting that “home cooking may help young people reduce their exposure to PFAS.”

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