Research Links PFAS to Decreased Bone Health in Adolescents

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Dec. 6, 2023 -- So-called “forever chemicals” found in countless consumer products are linked to lower bone mineral density over time in adolescents, according to new research published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research.

The chemicals are known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are manufactured and used in food packaging, cosmetics, and other everyday items. They have been linked previously to reproductive issues, higher risk of cancer -- and to lower bone mineral density in studies mostly focusing on older, non-Hispanic white people, according to Eureka Alert.

“This is a population completely understudied in this area of research, despite having an increased risk for bone disease and osteoporosis,” said Vaia Lida Chatzi, MD, and the study’s senior author at the Keck School of Medicine at USC.

Researchers looked at two groups of young people. Most were Hispanics, who face greater risk of bone disease in adulthood.

In a group of 304 adolescents, exposure to PFAS was linked to lower density over time. Among 137 young adults, it was linked to lower baseline density but not to differences over time.

Researchers say the study highlights that the association is occurring even when bones are developing. They call for stricter regulation of PFAS, which are found in public drinking water, food, and soil across the country.

As Eureka Alerts reported, bone density increases during adolescents and starts decreasing around age 30. 

“PFAS are ubiquitous – we are all exposed to them,” Chatzi said. “We need to eliminate that exposure to allow our youth to reach their full potential in terms of bone development to help them avoid osteoporosis later in life.”