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If you’ve been reading our newsletter for a while, you’ve certainly seen the information my colleagues and I have shared about the dangers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — or PFAS.
They’re also known as “forever chemicals,” and that’s no exaggeration.
PFAS are carbon atoms, surrounded by fluorine atoms. Because carbon plus fluorine is one of the strongest chemical bonds known in nature, they simply never break down.
Can’t finish that meal and ask for a takeout box? You’re bringing home toxic chemicals along with your leftovers.
PFAS have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease, and infertility.
And now, we have proof that these forever chemicals attack the very mechanisms our body uses to protect us from diseases of all kinds: our immune system.
PFAS attacks important immune system cells
Many epidemiological studies have shown an association between increased PFAS exposure and reduced immune responses in children, even after receiving their routine childhood vaccinations.
Environmental researchers in Germany and Italy teamed up to find out whether PFAS are affecting our adult immune systems as well, and if so, just how they’re doing it.
The team, led by Dr. Gunda Herberth of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, developed a special immunological measurement method known as multiparameter spectral flow cytometry.
Using this method, they determined that PFAS reduced the activity of two out of five types of immune cells in particular: MAIT cells (mucosa-associated invariant T cells) and T-helper cells.
The importance of MAIT and T-cells
Dr. Herberth explains for us in simple terms why these two types of cells are crucial to our wellness, and why their failure spells disease for us.
MAIT cells are found in our mucous membranes, for example, in the mucous in our nose. That means they’re our body’s first line of defense against pathogens.
“If the activity of MAIT cells is restricted,” she explains, it is much easier for pathogens to invade the body.”
T-cells play a different role. They “are involved in the production of antibodies. If they are inhibited by PFAS, it is likely that fewer antibodies are produced — which could explain the reduced immune response to vaccination.”
Looking at things on a deeper level, Dr. Herberth and her team found that genes that normally play a role in T-cell activation were down-regulated after PFAS exposure.
“Our study clearly shows that PFAS reduce the activity of immune cells. If a person is exposed to high levels of PFAS, this is likely to be reflected in their health. For example, through a higher susceptibility to infections.”
How to avoid PFAS in your daily life
So many conditions and diseases can be traced back to a dysregulated immune system, ranging from viruses to cancer.
Although you can’t eliminate PFAS in your world, there are ways to dramatically lower your risk of exposure:
- Drinking water – don’t assume that bottled water will solve the problem. There’s no guarantee that it’s free of PFAS. You can try filtering your tap water. Granular activated carbon absorption filters, ion exchange resin filters and reverse osmosis filters work the best.
- Look for dental floss that’s PFAS-free.
- Check the Environmental Working Group’s recommendations for safe cosmetics at EWG’s Skin Deep®.
- Replace non-stick or Teflon-coated cookware with cast iron pans or ceramic-coated cookware.
And don’t forget to use vitamin D3 to support your immune system. Unlike D2, there’s evidence that vitamin D3 had a “modifying effect” on the immune system that could fortify the body against viral and bacterial diseases.
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PFAS reduce the activity of immune cells, study suggests — Science Daily
Health risks of widely used chemicals may be underestimated — Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health