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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Emory Faculty Link Chemical Exposure with High Cholesterol Levels

Higher perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA) exposure was associated with incident hypercholestorlemia with medicine. PFOA is a man-made fluorocarbon found at low levels in the blood of all Americans according to a recent study published in the December 2014 edition of Environmental Health Perspective.

Since being invented in the 1940s, PFOA has been used to make several consumer products like Gore-tex,  Scotchgard, and Teflon.  Due to concerns about its toxicity, production ceased in the US in the mid-2000s,  and use has been reduced.  However,  PFOA continues to be used in some manufacturing. PFOA persists indefinitely in the  environment, and general population blood levels have not dropped appreciably in recent years.

Emory investigators Dr. Andrea Winquist, assistant researcher professor and Dr. Kyle Steenland, professor, both in the department of Environmental Health at Rollins School of Public Health, followed 32,000 adults in W. Virginia, looking at the incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol over time in relation to prior PFOA levels in the blood.  This was the first large longitudinal study in humans.  They demonstrated  that those with higher cumulative PFOA blood levels were more likely to be diagnosed with high cholesterol than those with low PFOA blood levels; no effects were found for heart disease or high blood pressure.

A community near a W. Virginia DuPont plant, which used PFOA to make Teflon, has had high exposure. The mean serum  PFOA levels in 2005 in this community was 82 ng/ml, compared to 4 ng/ml in the general U.S. population. PFOA in humans has been associated with higher cholesterol in over a dozen studies, most of which have measured PFOA and cholesterol at the same time (a cross-sectional study). This  study design cannot determine whether the PFOA exposure preceded the high cholesterol.