pfas: the “forever chemicals”

PFAS: the “Forever Chemicals”

Recent research has examined the possibility of an increased incidence of T1D coinciding with increased exposure to widely-used industrial chemicals, especially per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

What are PFAS? 

PFAS are man-made chemicals found in products that resist sticking, heat, water, stains and grease. They are very persistent in the environment and in the body, meaning they don’t break down and accumulate over time.  Hence why they are called forever chemicals.” 

Where can PFAS be found? Well… they’re kind of everywhere since they are widely used in consumer and industrial applications, like food packaging materials, paper and textile coatings and fire-fighting foams. They are even present in food, drinking water, dust and air.

PFAS may contribute to an increased T1D risk and pathogenesis by impairing beta/immune-cell function and immunomodulation. But why?

  • PFAS disrupt generation of human pancreatic progenitor cells.
  • PFAS suppress the antibody response. 
  • PFAS exposure may cause changes in the gut microbiome, glucose metabolism, oxidative stress and inflammation.
  • PFAS affect mouse pancreatic acinar cells, which are part of the exocrine pancreas involved in digestion.

Why expectant mothers should be concerned

PFAS are transferred from mother to fetus via the placenta and through breast feeding.

A recent study analyzing the impact of PFAS exposure in utero to the phospholipid profile of newborn infants found that: 

  • PFAS exposure appeared to impact the composition of the maternal cord blood metabolome.
  • Prenatal PFAS exposure caused decreased levels of several phospholipids, namely, SMs and PCs, found to be down-regulated in children who later progressed to islet autoimmunity.

Bottom Line: High prenatal exposure to PFAS appears to alter lipid profiles in newborn infants, which in turn may increase their risk of islet autoimmunity and T1D.  But don’t panic yet – the associations between PFAS and increased T1D risk are not very strong.