How to Avoid ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Your Dinner (and Popcorn)
By George Citroner
A group of chemicals that can last indefinitely are still popping up in food containers, despite increasing evidence they can lead to significant health issues.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of synthetic, fluorinated chemicals used worldwide since the 1940s, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Exposure to PFAS has been linked to increased risk of severe health issues, including cancer and thyroid issues.
Now new research finds that people who eat more fast food or often eat at restaurants tend to have higher levels of these chemicals in their bodies.
First Study to Find Food Packaging Is Source of Exposure
PFAS have been linked with numerous health effects, including cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, low birth weight and decreased fertility.
Because exposure is widespread in many populations, experts are becoming increasingly concerned.
"This is the first study to observe a link between different sources of food and PFAS exposures in the U.S. population," study co-author Laurel Schaider, Ph.D., and environmental chemist at the Silent Spring Institute told Healthline.
"Our findings show that decisions about what we eat and where we eat can have measurable changes in our PFAS exposure. Our findings also suggest that food packaging can be a source of PFAS exposure, and that using alternatives to PFAS in food packaging would reduce people's exposures to these chemicals," she continued.
Although manufacturers have removed this compound from many U.S. consumer goods, the chemical they replaced them with, called short-chain PFAS, is suspected to be just as toxic.
A recent study, published in the Chemical Engineering Journal, says short-chain PFAS compounds are "more widely detected, more persistent and mobile in aquatic systems, and thus may pose more risks on the human and ecosystem health" than the original compounds.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 98 percent of Americans have trace amounts of PFAS in their bodies, which may take up to 9 years to metabolize.
Dining Out and Microwave Popcorn Are Sources of Exposure
The researchers looked at data from more than 10,000 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the CDC program that tracks health and nutritional trends in the U.S.
Participants answered detailed questions about their diet, recording what they ate over the previous day, week, month and year. They also provided blood samples that were analyzed for five of the thousands of known PFAS chemicals.
"We conducted a comprehensive analysis of the association between PFAS exposure and consumption of food from fast food/pizza restaurants, other restaurants, and food eaten at home, as well as microwave popcorn, based on representative sampling of the U.S. population in 2003–2014," the study authors wrote.
Four of the PFAS chemicals present in the blood samples had been previously detected in microwave popcorn bags, the researchers noted.
According to the study, PFAS are widely found in nonstick, stain-resistant and waterproof products, including:
- outdoor clothing
- food packaging
Food crops and livestock can also contain PFAS through exposure to contaminated soil and water, according the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The findings suggest people who frequently ate out or consumed microwave popcorn had significantly higher levels of PFAS.
So, How Can You Avoid PFAS?
The CDC states that since "PFAS are at low levels in some foods and in the environment (air, water, soil, etc.) completely eliminating exposure is unlikely."
But this doesn't mean you can't take action to significantly reduce your risk for exposure.
One clear option is simply cooking and eating food at home.
Schaider and team wrote, "According to the 24-h recall model, every 100kcal [calories] of food per day eaten at home from non-restaurant sources was associated with decreased concentrations of all five PFASs."
You can also avoid stain or water-resistant clothing or products, and stop using nonstick (Teflon) cookware, which all contain PFAS.
A study published in January found women who flossed with Oral-B Glide tended to have higher levels of a type of PFAS called PFHxS (perfluorohexanesulfonic acid) in their bodies compared with those who didn't.
But there are other types of floss without PFAS. Worried consumers can also use an oral irrigator to clean their teeth.
Katie Boronow, staff scientist at Silent Spring, emphasized, "The good news is, based on our findings, consumers can choose flosses that don't contain PFAS."
The Bottom Line
PFAS are chemical compounds associated with cancer and other health risks. New research finds that people who frequently eat at restaurants or even eat microwave popcorn have elevated levels of this substance in their blood.
While the CDC says it can be difficult to completely eliminate the risk of exposure, there are things we can do to minimize it.
Avoiding PFAS-containing products and packaging, filtering home drinking water and eating out less can all help reduce exposure to this chemical compound.
How U.S. Government Conceals Truth About 'Forever Chemicals' and How You Can Help Avoid Exposure https://t.co/DEZhc9Z6uV— GO GREEN (@ECOWARRIORSS) September 25, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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