If you are interested in optimizing your health, chances are you try to hydrate your body properly by drinking water throughout the day. We are fortunate to live in a day and age where clean drinking water is widely available. In the United States, most people inherently trust their drinking water supply. While you may not need to worry about becoming acutely ill, the water you drink daily may not be as “clean” as you believe. And, recent events (and SCIENCE) suggests we should pay closer attention to our drinking water!
Contamination of drinking water in the United States has recently come to the forefront in the news with three “forever chemical” manufacturers – Chemours, DuPont, and Corteva agreeing to pay a $1B, (yes Billion!) settlement for contaminating U.S. drinking water with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of man-made toxic chemicals notorious for their adverse health effects.
While the settlement has brought light to the issue, PFAS in drinking water is not ‘new’ news. The U.S. Geological Survey found that at least 45% of U.S. tap water, including water from public supplies and wells, contains PFAS. What’s more concerning is that not all PFAS can be detected by testing, suggesting contamination could be even worse than current data suggests. In other words, you may be consuming PFAS with every sip of water that you drink. (Source, Source)
PFAS aren’t going anywhere (yet), but we can take measures to reduce our exposure to these harmful compounds both in our drinking water and other areas of our lives. Keep reading to learn about what PFAS are, how they end up in our drinking water, their health impacts, and how you can help your body detoxify these toxic compounds.
What are PFAS?
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, abbreviated as “PFAS,” are man-made compounds that have been widely used in industry, such as chemical production, and in the manufacturing of consumer goods, including textiles and cookware, since the 1940s.
Until recently, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfate (PFOS) were the main PFAS used in manufacturing and consumer products; in recent years, these compounds have been replaced with other PFAS compounds. PFAS are ubiquitous in our environment and, it turns out, plentiful in our water supplies. These compounds were considered a “miracle” of modern chemistry for decades. However, an alarming body of research indicates they may be detrimental to our health. (Source)
PFAS are part of a group of compounds known as “forever chemicals” because they tend to break down very slowly in the environment and, when a person is exposed, persist in the human body. Our bodies do not naturally eliminate these toxic compounds efficiently causing adverse health effects from these chemicals. (Source)
In 2022, the EPA determined that there is essentially no safe level of PFAS ingestion. The agency dragged its feet for years on PFAS contamination before finally setting some reasonable standards in 2022. In 2023, the EPA lowered the “safe level” of PFAS ingestion from 70 parts per trillion to 4 parts per trillion in drinking water; in other words, the amount of PFAS we should be exposed to in drinking water is 17 times lower than previously believed! (Source, Source, Source)
How Are We Exposed to PFAS?
It is difficult to escape exposure to PFAS in our modern-day environment. Research shows that nearly all Americans, including newborn babies, carry PFAS in their bodies. People living in urban areas are more likely to be exposed to PFAS in their drinking water than people in rural areas. However, people living in rural areas may face other issues with their drinking water, such as pesticide and herbicide contamination. (Source, Source)
Potential sources of PFAS include manufacturing facilities that leach PFAS into our air and groundwater, agricultural operations that use PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge for irrigation, PFAS-containing firefighting foam, and PFAS degradation in landfills. Water treatment plants currently do not have a way to filter PFAS, causing these chemicals to eventually contaminate our water supplies. (Source)
PRO TIP: You can research whether your drinking water is affected by PFAS by searching your area with the Environmental Working Group’s PFAS contamination map.
While PFAS recently made the news for showing up in drinking water, water isn’t our only source of exposure; countless other consumer goods, such as non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, and dental floss, and foods, particularly fast food, dairy products, and freshwater fish, contain these chemicals. (Source, Source, Source, Source)
What are the Health Consequences of PFAS Exposure?
Minimal doses of PFAS are associated with significant health effects, including effects on the immune, reproductive, and cardiovascular systems, just to name a few.
While PFAS are alarming for all, babies and children may be more significantly affected by PFAS than adults because they are exposed to more PFAS per pound of body weight. While the EPA clearly states that the benefits of breastmilk for babies outweigh the potential risks of PFAS exposure through breastmilk, they acknowledge the unsettling fact that breastmilk is a source of PFAS exposure for infants, and can be transferred through breastmilk. Infant formula may also be a problem if reconstituted with water containing PFAS. (Source, Source)
The first step is reducing your exposure
What you can do:
1. Phase Out PFAS Products and Purchase Consumer Goods That Are PFAS-Free
Swap out PFAS-containing non-stick cookware with stainless steel and cast-iron cookware.
NOTE: Some manufacturers offering “alternative” non-stick cookware options label their products “PFOA-free.” However, according to Consumer Reports, the pans may still contain PFAS compounds. (Source)
Change your dental floss. Choose a floss with natural fibers that is PFAS-free, versus an easy-glide floss made of PFAS. (Source)
Choose outdoor clothes and other water-repellent gear that are free of PFAS. For example, the bluesign® label on clothes can help you identify apparel free of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances. PrAna, Nau, Houdini, Keen footwear, and Icebreaker are other brands of outdoor and everyday clothing committed to being PFAS-free. (Source)
2. Invest in a High-Quality Water Filter
PFAS chemicals cannot be eliminated from drinking water via boiling; rather, you’ll need to use a water filtration system capable of catching these compounds. There are no established standards for PFAS in bottled water, so bottled water may not be an ideal solution. For example, reverse osmosis and granular activated carbon water filtration systems have been found to lower PFAS levels in drinking water to below detectable limits. Berkey water filters, which use a carbon filtration system, have also been found to remove up to 99.9% of PFAS. (Source, Source, Source)
3. Cut Out Fast Food
The fast-food industry uses grease-resistant packaging containing PFAS to serve food. In fact, frequent fast food intake is associated with higher serum PFAS concentrations! This means you may be chowing down on PFAS each time you eat McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A! If you have not yet been convinced to quit your fast-food habit, now may be the time! (Source, Source)
Can I detox my body of PFAS?
Humans have only been exposed to PFAS briefly, yet, research shows that these chemicals have bioaccumulated extensively in our bodies. Our bodies simply do not have the internal resources to handle the onslaught of “forever chemicals” we face. Fortunately, specific detoxification strategies, including herbs and binders, can help us eliminate these persistent toxins.
- Since PFAS can strain and even damage the liver, you will want to support your liver with herbs like milk thistle. Milk thistle has been used for centuries to protect and support the liver. (Source, Source)
- Research shows that the kidneys are a major organ in which PFAS accumulates, and these chemicals can ultimately damage the delicate kidneys. It may be wise to support healthy kidney function with herbs such as dandelion, which has been shown to protect the kidneys by regulating inflammation and supporting antioxidant activity. (Source, Source)
- Supplemental toxin binders may help your body eliminate PFAS. Binders may help eliminate PFAS from the body. PFAS can be recirculated between the gut, liver, and bloodstream via a system called the “enterohepatic circulation;” toxin binders are compounds that “mop up” toxins in your gut so they can be eliminated through your stool.
NOTE: You may be wondering, can I eliminate PFAS through sweating? While sweating from exercise and saunas can be a great way to remove some toxins, research indicates sweating is not a significant excretion route for PFAS. (Source, Source)
The Bottom Line on PFAS
There’s no escaping PFAS in our modern world, including our drinking water, at least not until sweeping environmental reform and remediation have occurred. However, you can be proactive about protecting yourself from the harmful health effects of PFAS by reducing your exposure to PFAS through a water filtration system, diet and lifestyle changes, and by strategically supporting your body’s detoxification pathways. With the right tools, you can protect your health today and for years to come.
by Lindsay Christensen, MS, CNS, LDN, A-CFHC, CKNS
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