Processed Foods Linked to ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Human Blood: Study

Processed Foods Linked to ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Human Blood: Study

Processed meats are shown in a file image. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Naveen Athrappully

Naveen Athrappully

2/22/2024

Updated: 2/22/2024

High consumption of processed and packaged foods results in increased levels of certain chemicals in the body known to trigger health complications, according to a recent study.
The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Environment International on Feb. 4, investigated how dietary habits influenced blood PFAS concentrations among young adults. Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” have been linked to multiple adverse health issues including cancers and negative effects on immune function and reproduction.
They are used in furniture, fabric, and several other household items. Recent tests show that the chemicals are present in drinking water, food packaging, and livestock.
Researchers analyzed food consumption data from 727 young adults and determined that higher intake of items such as processed meats, tea, and food prepared outside the home was associated with increased PFAS levels in the body over time.
“We’re starting to see that even foods that are metabolically quite healthy can be contaminated with PFAS,” said Hailey Hampson, a doctoral student in the Keck School of Medicine’s Division of Environmental Health and the study’s lead author, in a news release. “These findings highlight the need to look at what constitutes ‘healthy’ food in a different way.”
The study looked at 123 young adults from the Southern California Children’s Health Study (CHS) who were primarily Hispanic, as well as 604 young adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES), a nationally representative sample.
Each participant answered several questions about their diet, including how frequently they consumed various foods and beverages. They revealed how often they ate food prepared at home, at fast food restaurants, and at non-fast food restaurants.
Participants also gave blood samples that were tested for PFAS levels. The CHS group was tested twice while the NHANES group was tested once.

Processed Meats

Researchers found that “higher intakes of pork, hot dogs, beef, and other processed meats were associated with higher PFAS concentrations” in both groups. They suggested that PFAS “may accumulate in meat products through several exposure sources.”
“Processed meats such as sausages, bacon, and hot dogs may accumulate PFAS through contact during processing or cooking. Other forms of meat, such as unprocessed pork and beef, may come from animals that were raised in PFAS-contaminated areas or were packaged in grease-resistance packaging that contains PFAS.”
Higher intake of tea was observed to be linked to high PFAS in CHS and NHANES groups. The study speculated that PFAS presence via tea could be coming through tea bags made of paper. It pointed out that “paper products are a major contamination source for PFAS.”
In the NHANES group, a higher intake of cakes and cupcakes was found linked to elevated PFAS concentration in blood. As dessert wrappers have been shown to be highly fluorinated, it is possible that high PFAS blood levels in this case came from packaging materials.
Researchers cited an earlier analysis which showed that dietary fiber intake could reduce PFAS blood levels. As such, consuming foods rich in fiber such as fruits, grains, and vegetables helps to reduce PFAS concentrations.
The study received funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Hastings Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The authors declared no competing interests.

Packaging Contamination

Since PFAS-contaminated packaging materials are used in the food industry, the study looked at exposure to chemicals from fast food joints and restaurants.
Researchers analyzed popularly ordered food items such as burgers, fries, hot dogs, burritos, tacos, fajitas, and pizzas. When these items were ordered from fast food joints or restaurants, PFAS levels were observed to be higher. In contrast, the same items prepared at home did not exhibit elevated PFAS concentrations.
“These results suggest that fast food may provide higher PFAS exposures, which could be from grease-resistant food packaging containing PFAS.”
The findings suggest that public monitoring of food and beverage products could aid in identifying and eliminating the source of contamination.
Some states have taken steps in this regard. Last year, the attorney general of California issued an advisory letter asking businesses manufacturing paper straws and food packaging material to reveal the PFAS levels of their products.
“That’s a really good step in the right direction, and our findings highlight the need for more of those types of regulations across the country,” said Jesse A. Goodrich, an assistant professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine and the study’s senior author.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine how dietary factors are associated with changes in PFAS over time. Looking at multiple time points gives us an idea of how changing people’s diets might actually impact PFAS levels.”

PFAS Presence

A study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) last year tested tap water samples from 716 locations across the country, checking for the presence of 32 types of PFAS. The agency determined that at least one PFAS on average was detected in about 45 percent of the tap water samples.
“USGS scientists tested water collected directly from people’s kitchen sinks across the nation, providing the most comprehensive study to date on PFAS in tap water from both private wells and public supplies,” the agency’s research hydrologist Kelly Smalling, the study’s lead author, said in a statement on July 5.
PFAS are called “forever chemicals” as they do not easily break down in the human body or in the environment.
Even plant-based straws, touted widely as eco-friendly, have been found to contain forever chemicals. In an August 2023 study, researchers examined PFAS concentrations in 39 brands of straws sold in the Belgian market made from five materials: paper, bamboo, glass, stainless steel, and plastic.
“PFAS were found to be present in almost all types of straws, but primarily in those made from plant-based materials” such as paper and bamboo, the study said.
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Naveen Athrappully

Naveen Athrappully

Author

Naveen Athrappully is a news reporter covering business and world events at The Epoch Times.

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