A new study has found a significant association between the risk for developing osteoarthritis in women and a type of chemicals called perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, which are widely used to stain-proof carpeting and cookware, grease-proof food packaging and water-proof outdoor clothing.
The research, conducted by Sarah Uhl and colleagues at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in New Haven, Connecticut, revealed that the higher a woman´s exposure to two specific PFC chemicals (PFOA and PFOS), the greater the risk for developing osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, which is associated with pain and stiffness due to damage to the cartilage in the joints.
In the study, which appears in the 14 February online issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, the chemicals were not associated with a similar risk in men.
While no cause-and-effect link was established, the robust PFC-osteoarthritis connection adds to previous research highlighting the threats these common synthetic chemicals pose to public health, such as higher levels of “bad” cholesterol in both men and women and lower effectiveness of routine vaccinations in children.
In the study, researchers analysed PFOA and PFOS exposure data collected between 2003 and 2008 by the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The analysis covered over 4,000 women and men aged 20-84 for whom osteoarthritis status data was available.
The study found that women exposed to the highest levels of either chemical faced up to almost double the risk for osteoarthritis relative to women exposed to lowest levels, with the link appearing stronger in younger women than in older ones.
The team suggested the strong association between these chemicals and the higher risk for osteoarthritis in women may be linked to hormonal differences, though further research is necessary to support this hypothesis. Other experts consider that the link may be down to the effect these chemicals have on inflammation, which is generally known to have adverse effects on cartilage.
While additional research is required, PFCs should be added to the list of traditional osteoarthritis risk factors, such as genetics, previous injuries, significant wear and tear of the body, obesity and weight, experts say.