Household Chemicals Linked to Arthritis in Women
By Alan Mozes
THURSDAY, Feb. 14 (HealthDay News) -- In what researchers are calling a first, a new analysis suggests that the greater a woman's exposure to a type of common chemical compound called PFCs, the greater her risk for developing osteoarthritis.
Researchers did not find a similar risk among men regarding these chemicals, which are now found in everything from nonstick cookware to take-out containers and carpeting.
Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, causes pain and stiffness and involves degeneration of the cartilage in the joints.
And the study authors stressed that while their investigation identified a robust link between osteoarthritis and exposure to two specific PFC chemicals -- known as PFOA and PFOS -- for now the finding can only be described as an association, rather than a cause-and-effect relationship.
"But we did find a clear and strong association between exposure to [these] compounds and osteoarthritis, which is a very painful chronic disease," said study lead author Sarah Uhl, who conducted the study while working as a researcher at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in New Haven, Conn.
"This adds to the body of information that we have suggesting that these highly persistent synthetic chemicals are of concern when it comes to the public health," she said.
The new study appears in the Feb. 14 online issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.
Uhl noted that exposure to PFCs is nearly universal, given their inclusion in a vast array of products to enable (among other things) the grease-proofing of food packaging, waterproofing of rain gear, and textile stain protection.
Previous research has linked PFC exposure to a higher risk for the premature onset of menopause in women, higher levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol in men and women, and reduced effectiveness of routine vaccinations among children.
To explore a potential PFC-osteoarthritis connection, the authors looked at PFOA and PFOS exposure data collected between 2003 and 2008 by the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The analysis covered more than 4,000 men and women between the ages of 20 and 84 for whom osteoarthritis status information was available.
The team found "significant associations" between osteoarthritis incidence and exposure to PFOA or PFOS among women but not men.
Women exposed to the highest levels of either chemical seemed to face up to nearly double the risk for developing osteoarthritis, compared to women exposed to the lowest levels.
The osteoarthritis-PFC connection also appeared to be stronger among younger women (between 20 and 49) than among older women (between 50 and 84). But the team said more follow-up research is needed to confirm the observation.
While the biological reason behind the potential connection remains unclear, the team suggested that the chemicals may have a particularly profound impact on hormonal balances for women.