Ubiquitous ‘eternal toxin’ may cause liver cancer – 4 ways to avoid it

A ubiquitous substance that can cause liver cancer is found in water, food wrappers, shampoo and non-stick pans. This is the toxin known as “eternal chemicals” – per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (SPFA).

Not so long ago, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reduced the advised Standard limits for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) – members of PFAS – in drinking water by more than a thousand times. Its 2016 health advisories for PFOA and PFOS were both 70 parts per trillion (or 70 ppt), and the recently updated health advisories for PFOA and PFOS are 0.004 ppt and 0, 02 ppt, respectively.

A growing number of studies show that PFAS are highly toxic. The last to research in August 2022, further discovered that such substances can cause liver cancer.

The SPFA are a group of artificial organofluorine chemical compounds that contain several fluorine atoms attached to an alkyl chain to form strong and stable carbon-fluorine bonds. This structure has high thermal and chemical stability, which makes these substances incredibly difficult to break down both in the body and in the environment.

SPFA substances break down very slowly and continuously accumulate in the environment, humans and animals. PFAS are among the most environmentally friendly persistent substances among the organic chemicals, and they are thus called “forever chemicals”.

PFAS were invented in the late 1930s and have been widely used since the 1940s due to their unique hydrophobicity and oleophobicity properties. PFAS can Walk in the human body through food and drink, breathing and skin contact. They are found throughout the body, accumulating mainly in the kidneys, liver and blood. As some of them are easily absorbed by the body and cannot always be filtered by the kidneys, they end up accumulating in organs such as the liver.

People are worried about the impact of PFAS on the human body, and researchers have also conducted numerous animal experiments. However, it is not easy to study the toxicity and effects of these substances on the human body due to their long term nature.

Nevertheless, a breakthrough has been made in studies: US scientists published a landmark study in the Journal of Hepatology in August 2022, which is the first practical evidence that PFAS substances can cause hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in humans .

CHC Iprimary liver cancer, representing 75% to 85% of all cases. With a five-year survival rate of less than 20%, it is one of the deadliest cancers.

Scientists have identified 50 people with HCC among 200,000 US residents. They obtained the blood samples from these people before they were diagnosed with liver cancer. The results showed that several PFAS substances were present in their blood. Ultimately, the researchers focused on PFOS.

They found that the 10% of people with the highest levels of PFOS in the blood were associated with a 4.5 times higher risk of HCC than those with low levels of PFOS in the blood.

The researchers further found that PFOS affected normal liver function by altering the metabolism of four substances in the liver, including glucose, a bile acid, an amino acid, and a keto acid.

Additionally, PFAS substances can cause cardiovascular disease, thyroid problems, immune system problems, liver damage, and kidney and prostate cancer.

Common sources of PFAS

The EPA has currently identified over 8,000 types of PFAS compounds. Aside from the non-stick coating on cookware that everyone is familiar with, PFAS are all around us:

  • Drink water
  • Fish and Livestock Exposed to PFAS
  • Food packaging (grease resistant paper, food containers/wraps)
  • Personal care products (some shampoos, dental floss and cosmetics)
  • Household products (waterproof and stain-resistant carpets, waterproof clothing, non-stick cooking utensils, cleaning products, paints, varnishes and sealants)

Scientists have tested 2,094 serum samples collected from the general US population over the age of 12 to assess exposure to a dozen types of PFAS. Four types of PFAS were detected in the blood of at least 98% of people, of which PFOS (99.9%) and PFOA (99.7%) were the most common.

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PFOA and PFOS are the two most commonly used PFAS substances. In recent years, these two substances have been replaced by other PFAS substances in the United States: GenX as a replacement for PFOA and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS) as a replacement for PFOS. However, the EPA acknowledges that GenX can affect the liver, kidneys, immune system and have developmental effects, and it is also linked to cancer; and that PFBS can affect the health of the thyroid, reproductive system and kidneys and the development of people.

4 Ways to Avoid PFAS

Although PFAS substances are ubiquitous around us and in the environment, we can adjust certain lifestyles and habits to minimize our exposure to these substances.

  1. Replace non-stick cookware with stainless steel cookware

PFAS substances in non-stick cookware can be transferred to food during the cooking process. Scientists tested this with salted tomato paste and found that PFOS and PFAS substances in nonstick cookware are gradually transferred to food.

You can replace non-stick cookware with stainless steel cookware. If you are worried about the food sticking to the stainless steel cookware during cooking, you can pour some oil, heat the cookware, let it cool naturally, then set it aside. Then when you start cooking, add some oil in the cookware, it can prevent food from sticking to it.

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If you use non-stick cookware, pay attention to the following points to reduce the amount of PFAS and other toxic substances in your food:

  • Do not heat empty cookware. Cook over medium-low heat. Turn on the fan or open the windows when cooking on high heat.
  • Avoid using utensils that can scratch the cookware surface.
  • Do not use abrasive cleaning products.
  • Replace cookware if damaged or worn.
  1. Replace potentially health-hazardous rugs in your home

Some oil and stain resistant carpets contain PFAS.

Modern people spend 90% of their time at home or in other indoor environments. A study published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters shows that the concentrations of volatile PFASs in indoor air, carpets and dust are closely related to each other, indicating that carpets and dust are the main sources of these substances in the air.

Rainer Lohmann, study co-author and professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, said that PFAS treated the rugs are an important route of exposure and can be replaced with PFAS-free mats.

  1. Cook your own food

A wide variety of food packaging may contain PFAS. The best solution is to buy raw food and cook at home.

Researchers found that people who ate regularly at home had significantly lower levels of PFAS in their bodies. For every 100 kcal of food consumed at home, the concentrations of PFAS substances would be reduced by 0.5%. In contrast, people who ate a lot of fast food or ate frequently at restaurants tended to have higher serum PFAS levels.

This means that foods from fast food and other restaurants contain more PFAS, because foods in these places are more likely to have come into contact with food packaging containing PFAS.

  1. Be careful when buying waterproof and dirt repellent garments

In outdoor and protective clothing work clothes, water- and oil-resistant materials containing PFAS substances are generally used. These clothes gradually degrade and release these substances during use and washing.

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