Researchers have found that PFAS - also known as "obesogenes" due to their interference with body weight regulation - are linked to a slower metabolic rate at times of rest.
Researchers found that people with higher blood levels of a type of chemical commonly used in non-stick cookware were more likely to put weight back on after dieting.
"Now, for the first time, our findings have pointed to a new path in which PFAS may be interfering with the regulation of body weight in humans and contributing, therefore, to the obesity epidemic", said the study's lead author, Qi Sun, Professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University.
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The study tracked data from 621 overweight and obese participants in a clinical trial on weight loss conducted in the mid-2000s.
PFAS has been around for about 60 years and has contaminated sources of drinking water near industrial sectors, military bases, and wastewater treatment plants. "Those who gained more weight later also had the highest concentrations of PFAS in the blood, a link that was strongest among women", reveals the report, published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
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The researchers found that during the first six months (weight-loss period), participants lost an average of 6.4 kg of body weight and that they subsequently regained an average of 2.7 kg of body weight during the period of six to 24 months (weight-regain period). However, there was a significant correlation for higher baseline levels of PFAS with greater weight regain, especially in women.
They also found that higher blood concentrations of PFASs were significantly associated with lower resting metabolic rates.
"We typically think about PFASs in terms of rare health problems like cancer, but it appears they are also playing a role in obesity, a major health problem facing millions around the globe", said study co-author Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School.
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