PFAS Exposure May Raise Diabetes Risk in Middle-Aged Women, Study Reveals

In past decades, scientists have linked PFAS exposure to a growing list of problems, including decreased fertility among women and increased risk for some cancers. Regrettably, this list now includes a chronic health condition common among millions of Americans: diabetes.

According to a new study published in the journal Diabetologia, exposure to PFAS might raise the risk of diabetes in middle-aged women. This is terrible because PFAS are virtually everywhere – in hundreds, if not thousands, of consumer products and “likely in all major water supplies in the U.S.,” according to EWG scientists. On top of that, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

We know this might be a lot to take in, especially if you are a middle-aged woman or you know one who has reached or is approaching midlife. The good news is that this article includes several ways to significantly lower your exposure to toxic PFAS chemicals and possibly decrease your risk of diabetes. But before we delve into all that good stuff, let’s talk about these industrial toxins and where they can be found, then highlight parts of the study to see how the compounds can increase the risk of diabetes in middle-aged women.

What are PFAS?

PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, is a class of thousands of human-made compounds. Because of their strong carbon-fluorine bonds, these chemicals are resistant to water, oil, heat, and corrosion, making them very durable. But that also means they don’t break down easily and, therefore, can last a very long time – a quality that has earned them the nickname “forever chemicals.”

How PFAS Exposure May Increase Diabetes Risk in Midlife Women

According to the Diabetologia publication, researchers from the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan “examined the association between serum PFAS concentrations and incident diabetes in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation Multi-Pollutant Study (SWAN-MPS).”

The study included 1237 women aged 45 to 56 years. These women were also diabetes-free upon entering the study between 1999 and 2000 and followed up to 2017. Blood samples taken at each follow-up visit throughout the study period were then analyzed for serum concentrations of seven PFASs.

And the Results?

The study authors identified 102 cases of incident diabetes per 17,005 “person-years” or 6 cases per 1000 “person-years” — a medical measurement for the number of years multiplied by the members of an affected population. The researchers did not determine the type of diabetes, but given the age of study participants, the researchers assumed they had type 2 diabetes, the study authors note.

After adjusting for race/ethnicity, smoking status, alcohol consumption, BMI, and other risk factors for diabetes, the research team concluded that higher serum concentrations of certain PFAS were associated with a higher risk of incident diabetes in midlife women. The researchers found the risk of incident diabetes to be similar to the magnitude of risk associated with being overweight and even more significant than the risk associated with smoking.

How PFAS Exposure May Raise the Diabetes Risk in Midlife Women, According to the Study

Findings from the study suggest that some types of PFAS could “disrupt the regulatory behavior of certain protein molecules and cause greater susceptibility to diabetes among this group.” “That’s because many of these chemicals have molecular structures similar to those of naturally occurring fatty acids, meaning that they have similar chemical properties and impacts on the human body,” the authors explained.

According to the study, fatty acids act on a class of proteins called “peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors,” which serve as fat and insulin sensors and are the main controllers of the body’s fat and glucose levels. But because some types of PFAS could potentially interact with these receptor proteins, they could also disrupt their regulatory behavior and increase the risk of diabetes.

An Urgent Message from the Study Authors

Given the startling discovery, the authors called for relevant agencies to change drinking water laws while urging clinicians to learn about PFAS as an unrecognized risk factor for diabetes. They also advised that PFAS may need to be regulated as a class – a proposal long met with intense objection from companies producing and using these compounds.

“Reduced exposure to these ‘forever and everywhere chemicals’ even before entering midlife may be a key preventative approach to lowering the risk of diabetes,” the authors said in a statement. “Policy changes around the drinking water and consumer products could prevent population-wide exposure.”

Other Health Complications Linked to PFAS Exposure

While scientists are still learning about the long-term health effects of prolonged PFAS exposure, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) lists other related toxic health effects, including:

  • Hormone disruption
  • Liver and thyroid problems
  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Changes in liver enzymes
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Small decreases in infant birth weights
  • Abnormal fetal development
  • Decreased fertility among women
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women
  • Increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer

Where can PFAS be found?

Since the discovery of PFAS in the 1940s, thousands of substances that rely on the chemicals’  strong carbon-fluorine bond have been created and added to a wide variety of products to make them resistant to heat, water, oil, and corrosion.

PFAS in food packaging materials

While PFAS are most notorious for their presence in certain firefighting foams and industrial discharge, they are vital ingredients in many food packaging materials. Consumer Report (CR) test results show levels of total organic fluorine (a measure of PFAS) in 118 food packaging products gathered from major fast-food and fast-casual restaurants. These food packaging products include grease-resistant paper and fast food containers/wrappers such as microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and candy wrappers. Unfortunately, many of these products came from popular brands like Burger King and McDonald’s and even more health-focused chains like Trader Joe’s.

PFAS in consumer goods

The properties and function of PFAS chemicals to repel water, grease, oil, and dirt make them useful in the manufacture of a wide variety of everyday consumer goods, including after treatments, apparel, carpets and rugs, cosmetics, personal care products (shampoo, dental floss, etc.), firefighting foam, non-stick cookware, ski wax, water-resistant clothing (raincoats, yoga pants, etc.), paints, varnishes, and sealants, and many more.

PFAS in some foods

Fish and shellfish caught from water contaminated by PFAS (particularly PFOS) likely contain PFAS. You may also find some amount of the chemicals in vegetables and other foods grown in PFAS-contaminated soil.

PFAS in municipal drinking water supplies and public and private well water

A report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that there might be high concentrations of PFAS in drinking water, way more than the EPA previously reported. Furthermore, a study published in Environmental Science and Technology detected toxic “forever chemicals” in “20% of private wells and 60% of public wells sampled in 16 eastern states.”

Are You Exposed to PFAS Through Your Tap Water?

Whether your drinking water comes from a municipality or a private well, it likely contains PFAS. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if there are “forever chemicals” in your water by looking at it, smelling it, or tasting it. The best way to find out if your drinking water is tainted with toxic PFAS is to:

  • Check EWG’s Tap Water Database. The EWG’s Tap Water Database provides valuable information about a particular city or state based on the ZIP code you enter. It displays the water utility’s details, such as its location, the estimated number of people served, the period for which the data is available, and the source (whether groundwater or surface water). The tool will also tell you the total number of contaminants detected in the water supply and how many of them exceed EWG health guidelines. So, punch in your city or ZIP code and see if there are any PFAS contaminants reported in your water supply.
  • Check your water quality report. You can contact your local water provider and request a copy of their latest water quality report. After receiving the document, read through it to see if there have been any recent PFAS contamination reports in your area’s water supply.
  • Get your water tested for PFAS at a certified laboratory. You can send a water sample from your tap to a local laboratory for rigorous testing for more accurate results. Depending on the laboratory, this method can be costly and time-consuming, but it’s a great way to know if your water is tainted with PFAS and perhaps what specific PFAS are present. When you purchase a water test kit from Springwell, it comes with clear instructions for collecting the water sample from your tap and sending it to the corresponding laboratory. Usually, you’ll receive the test results in about two weeks.

How to Reduce Your Exposure to PFAS

Steering clear of PFAS is practically impossible since they can be found in our homes, offices, supermarkets – virtually everywhere! Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to limit your exposure to PFAS:

Transfer take-out food out of its packaging when possible.

The longer food stays in PFAS-embedded packaging, the more likely the chemicals will transfer to your food. Warm food may cause PFAS to migrate quicker, so please move it to another container as soon as possible. Also, food in paper bags or molded fiber bowls has the highest levels in Consumer Report’s tests. Instead, put food into silicone, glass containers, or foil, which typically don’t have PFAS.

Don’t reheat food in its original packaging.

As we mentioned earlier, warm food may cause PFAS to transfer to your food from the packaging quickly. However, reheating food in the original packaging containing PFAS may cause the chemicals to get into your food faster.

Buy from retailers that have pledged to reduce PFAS.

While food packaging products used at “anti-PFAS” retailers aren’t entirely PFAS-free, they tend to be somewhat lower. Thus, favoring these retailers reduces your exposure and supports efforts to address the PFAS problem.

Limit exposure to other PFAS-laden products.

Cumulative exposure is the most significant risk from PFAS, so try to limit the use of products made with PFAS, including water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant carpeting, and those listed above.

Invest in a water filter system that remove PFAS.

The federal government is yet to agree on a safe level for PFAS in drinking water, although some states have established their standards and screen levels. That means you must take matters into your own hands to protect yourself and your family from these dangerous chemicals.

After testing your water for PFAS, we recommend purchasing and installing a home water filtration system designed to remove PFAS. Even if your water doesn’t contain PFAS, a system like this will help to prevent possible future PFAS contamination in your drinking water.

If you decide to invest in a water filter system to remove PFAS from drinking water, a reverse osmosis water filter or an activated carbon water filter is your best option. Reverse osmosis is a highly effective method of micro-filtration. Commonly, reverse osmosis (RO) filters rely on a robust filter membrane to eliminate pollutants, including PFAS (PFOA and PFOS), arsenic, lead, nitrates, etc.

An activated carbon water filtration system is the second-best option to eliminate toxic “forever chemicals” from water. Like RO filters, activated carbon filters reduce the amounts of PFAS and many other contaminants in drinking water but rely on carbon granules to trap micro-contaminants like PFAS and other dissolved chemicals.

The Best Reverse Osmosis Filter to Remove PFAS from Drinking Water

The Springwell SWRO under-counter reverse osmosis filters are among the best systems to combat PFAS in tap water. They combine reverse osmosis and carbon filtration in their 4-stage process to remove dangerous chemicals like PFAS, heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, fluoride, and many other chemicals and contaminants regularly found in drinking water.

The SWRO filters are point-of-use filters, meaning they filter water at specific points in your home. They also fit neatly under almost any kitchen sink and produce up to 75 gallons of treated, PFAS-free water per day.

The Best Whole-House Water Filtration System for Contaminant Reduction

The Springwell CF1 whole-house water filtration system is a state-of-the-art activated carbon whole-house filter that can significantly reduce harmful pollutants in water, such as chlorine, chloramine, pesticides, herbicides, haloacetic acids, and many more.

The CF1 is a point-of-entry system, meaning it filters all the water entering your house. It uses Springwell’s ActivFlo technology and the highest-quality coconut shell carbon and filtration media to filter water through four critical stages, removing harmful contaminants during the entire filtration process.

The CF1 achieves this superb level of filtration by allowing enough contact time between each step of the filtration process and the specific contaminants, including PFAS. That way, you and your family can enjoy healthier and safer drinking water with a system that gives you multiple lines of defense against PFAS and other dangerous chemical pollutants.

Healthier, Better-Tasting, Water with Springwell

Springwell believes that every family deserves the cleanest, best-tasting drinking water possible. For over 20 years, we’ve strive to manufacture the most innovative, reliable, and robust filtration systems at the most affordable prices. Our water filtration systems are easy to install and set up and require very little or no maintenance to upkeep their remarkable performance. Every unit comes with a manufacturer’s lifetime warranty against defects and a six-month money-back guarantee. You also get free shipping with FedEx’s fast and reliable service. But best of all, you save up to 50 percent when you purchase your brand-new system directly from our factory.

Final Thoughts

PFAS are a dangerous group of chemicals. Scientists have long linked these compounds to a range of health problems, including low birth rate, immune system issues, and increased risk for certain types of cancers. But recently, researchers have discovered that PFAS exposure may also raise the risk of diabetes in middle-aged women. While these “forever chemicals” are present almost everywhere, including our precious drinking water, there are a few ways to limit your exposure: avoiding non-stick cookware and known PFAS-laden consumer products, shopping from “anti-PFAS” retailers, and installing a home water filtration system designed to combat PFAS in drinking water, to name a few.

Contact Springwell today to learn more about our products and how we can help you remove PFAS and other toxic chemical contaminants from your drinking water and reduce your risk of diabetes and all the other unwanted health conditions linked to PFAS exposure.