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 Dr. Frank Lipman sits on a chair, cross-legged, arm resting on the back of the chair, lightly touching his other hand that is resting on his thigh. He is wearing blue denim, a blue dress shirt and a navy textured blazer and black glasses. He is smiling, showing his front teeth looking off to the side.

Dr. Frank Lipman

Chief Medical Officer at THE WELL

Published: 03/07/2024

As my patients and readers know, I’m all about encouraging people to purge their bodies, and the environment they inhabit, of as many toxins as possible. It’s an essential piece of the good health puzzle. The cleaner your food, home and life, the better for your body, in the short and long term.

However, over the last few months, you may have been hearing quite a bit about ‘forever chemicals,’ or PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which encompass roughly 4700+ man-made chemicals that don’t break down in our bodies or in nature and, no surprise, have the power to wreak havoc on our health.

As more of the dangers associated with PFAS have come to light, safe to say the concern about these nasty toxins has radiated far beyond the wellness community to ordinary concerned citizens, especially in severely impacted communities. Over the past four years, almost half of the states in the U.S. have enacted over 100 laws to ban or restrict the use of PFAS to help curb the chemical assault. The federal government has been considerably slower in its response – currently, there are no federal regulations (!) covering PFAS, despite strong evidence suggesting that chemical makers knew about the health-altering dangers of certain PFAS as far back as the early ‘60s. Naturally, they suppressed their findings.

Unfortunately, in the decades since, PFAS have become so baked into so many facets of modern life, they’re tough to avoid – but I urge you to make the effort if a long and healthy life is your goal. Here’s a topline on what you need to know about PFAS, and a few ways to reduce your exposure as much as possible:

Why the fuss?

I and my integrative medicine colleagues have long contended that chronic exposure to low doses of toxic chemicals almost certainly plays a role in the development of autoimmune diseases, cancer, neurological diseases, fertility issues, ADHD, allergies, and more. And it’s that slow buildup of PFAS over months and years that many of us believe may be behind all kinds of nagging symptoms that often get written off as normal fatigue or the inevitable effects of aging.

PFAS are linked with life-altering health problems.

Fact is, we live in a sea of chemical stressors that our ancestors had no exposure to, so our bodies never evolved to handle them. We’re caught in a tidal wave of toxins that are overwhelming our detoxification systems, overtaxed-to-the-max trying to deal with the “forever chemicals” and carcinogenic compounds entering our systems every day. What happens when those detoxification systems can’t keep up with the onslaught? Well, for starters, increased disease risk. According to the CDC, high levels of certain PFAS that can accumulate in our bodies are associated with increased cholesterol levels; increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in pregnant people; lower infant birth weights; and increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer. Also on the list are links to liver damage, decreased fertility, weakened immune function, and increased risk of thyroid disease and asthma – so small wonder why we wellness types urge people to steer clear of PFAS exposure as much as they possibly can.

PFAS are just about everywhere…

OK, so you know that PFAS are bad news, they’re virtually everywhere, and are associated with a world of health trouble. So, the question is, where will you cross paths with them on an average day? Probably in more places than you think. You’ll find them in so many everyday things, and they aren’t called out on the labeling, so it’s a case of buyer beware, or buyer be aware. Among the most common sources of everyday PFAS:

  1. Household cleaning products
  2. Products made with water-resistant fabrics, like rain jackets, water-resistant clothing, umbrellas and tents
  3. Grease-resistant paper, commonly used in fast food wrappers, and the containers and boxes that hold burgers, fries, salads; microwave popcorn, etc. (in case you needed another reason to avoid fast food!)
  4. Nonstick cookware, which is often coated in substances that contain with PFAS
  5. Personal care products, like shampoo, dental floss, nail polish, and eye makeup
  6. Stain-resistant coatings used on fabrics, carpets and upholstery

…But you can sidestep them.

Granted, most of us aren’t quite ready to go without washing our hair, flossing our teeth, or cleaning the kitchen floor in the name of avoiding PFAS, but you can make better choices about the products you do buy. Which ones are better bets for your body? The ones that are made by companies who make it their policy to ditch PFAS, regardless of what current state or federal regulations may allow them to get away with.

To buy smarter and PFAS-free, take a look at the Environmental Working Group’s list of companies which produce a number of everyday products that include PFAS-free food packaging, tableware, office furniture, textiles, carpets, flooring, rain gear, apparel, bakeware, cookware, cosmetics, dental floss and more. Buy according items from the EWG’s list and instantly knock a load of PFAS out of your life in one fell swoop. (Who’s the smart shopper now, eh?.)

PFAS can sneak in — so it’s up to you to keep them out.

Even if you do choose the cleanest PFAS-free products possible, the fight to keep forever chemicals out of your system isn’t over – vigilance is key. As there are other ways those forever chemicals can find their way into your system, it’s your job to be the gatekeeper. According to the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a few more common ways exposure to PFAS can occur includes:

  1. Drinking contaminated municipal water or private well water
  2. Eating fish caught from water contaminated by PFAS
  3. Eating food grown or animals raised near places that used or made PFAS
  4. Swallowing or inhaling contaminated soil or dust
  5. Inhaling fumes and physical contact with paints, varnishes and sealants

To sidestep these common exposure routes, pay attention to:

  • Your water quality: find out if the water in your area is potentially contaminated by chemicals, farm runoff, etc., and if so, find out how severe the situation is or isn’t, and look into alternative clean water sources if the situation warrants.
  • Your well water: have it tested frequently to keep up to date with the latest stats. While the general recommendation is to test your well water at least once a year for bacteria and for other contaminants every 3-5 years, depending on where you live and how land is used in your area, it might be wise to test more frequently. And, if your water looks, smells or tastes different after heavy rainfall or flooding, test it immediately and don’t drink it until you’ve gotten the test results.
  • Filter your water: Even if your local municipal water is highly rated, and/or your private well water is in good shape, as a precaution, it’s always a good idea to filter whatever is flowing out of your tap as an additional precaution. Carbon filters on faucets or in water pitchers are helpful for reducing PFAS levels – but transfer your filtered water into glass containers and store in the fridge. Same goes for water filtered through a pricier/high end reverse osmosis system which can eliminate just about all PFAS contamination.
  • Skip freshwater fish: Avoid locally caught freshwater fish in the U.S., which according to a 2023 study is a significant source of PFAS exposure. Fun as it might seem to catch your dinner off the dock of your lakeside Airbnb, it’s probably not a great idea for your long-term health. If you just can’t resist a recreationally caught fish, then check statewide advisories first before you fire up the frying pan.
  • Know your fish sources: A safer bet is to buy pole-caught, wild fish, ideally through a socially responsible organization like sea2table.com. To help guide your purchases, you can also checkout Seafoodwatch.org, which provides recommendations on the best fish options, and the must-avoids for more than 50 of the most common species of fish that you’re likely to come across at your local market.

Think like a doctor – who loathes PFAS.

Others may dismiss your efforts to reduce and replace the toxins, and in particular the forever chemicals in your life. Ignore them, follow your instincts, and carry on. Focus on the small, proactive things you can do instead of worrying about all that you cannot. It’s about gradually decreasing your toxic load and preventing as many PFAS from entering your system as you can, so you can live a long and healthy life for as long as possible. That’s how you really win at life!

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