The Silent Threat of PFAS: Understanding and Avoiding Forever Chemicals

Chemical structure of PFAS

SHIELD is Ancestral Tenet number 4. What do we mean by SHIELD? 

We don’t have to run from wild beasts or fight quarreling tribes, but there are invisible and insidious dangers in the modern world that would be best to avoid if you’re seeking health and longevity.

Among these hidden threats are Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as "forever chemicals." These compounds are ubiquitous, hard to avoid, and harder still to eliminate from the environment. Here's what you need to know about PFAS, their impact on health, and PRACTICAL steps to reduce your exposure.

What Are PFAS?

PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other substances. Since the 1940s, PFAS have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide, including in nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, cosmetics, firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil.

Due to their strong carbon-fluorine bonds, PFAS chemicals do not degrade in the environment — hence the nickname "forever chemicals." They can accumulate in the human body over time, and today, they are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world, even in remote areas.

Health Risks of PFAS Exposure

The ubiquity of PFAS is alarming given the significant health risks associated with exposure. Studies have linked PFAS exposure to a range of serious health issues, including:

  • Cancer: Some PFAS compounds have been linked to cancers, particularly kidney and testicular cancer.
  • Immune System Impact: PFAS exposure is associated with weakened immune responses, with children exposed to PFAS showing less response to vaccines.
  • Hormonal Disruption: These chemicals can disrupt endocrine function, impacting natural hormones crucial for growth, metabolism, and reproductive health.
  • Developmental Delays: PFAS exposure is particularly concerning for pregnant women as it can lead to low birth weight, delayed puberty, and developmental delays in infants and older children.

How PFAS Enter Our Bodies

Understanding the pathways through which PFAS enter our bodies can help in devising effective strategies to minimize exposure. The primary sources of exposure include:

  • Contaminated Water: PFAS are often found in water supplies near facilities that manufactured, disposed of, or used PFAS.
  • Food Packaging: Food containers and wrappers often treated with PFAS to resist grease can leach chemicals into food.
  • Household Products: Many products, including stain-resistant carpets, nonstick cookware, and water-repellent fabrics, contain PFAS.
  • Industrial Exposure: Workers in industries that use PFAS may be exposed directly through inhalation or skin contact.

Simple Strategies to Reduce PFAS Exposure

While completely avoiding PFAS exposure is currently impossible, there are effective ways to significantly reduce your risk. The fear-mongering social media influencers would have you ditching everything in your kitchen and closet. That’s not practical. Some things have nominal impact, like your raincoat. You wear that thing for, like, 10 minutes a year and, unless you set it on fire, it’s probably not leaking chemicals into your body. An expensive alternative probably doesn’t even keep you dry. So let’s stick to the big things you can do to avoid major exposure to these chemicals. Here’s a short list of the things you can do that have the most impact :

  • Choose Cast Iron or Stainless Steel Cookware: Ditch nonstick cookware, which can degrade and leach PFAS into your food, especially when heated. Opt for safer alternatives like cast iron or high-quality stainless steel that not only avoid chemical exposure but also can boost your iron intake or last a lifetime with proper care… Bonus: Food cooked in cast iron just tastes better.
  • Use Glass Containers: For storing and heating food, switch to glass containers. Unlike many plastic containers, glass is inert and does not leach chemicals into your food, especially when heated or scrubbed.
  • Check Water Quality: If you live in an area at risk of PFAS contamination, consider having your water tested. Filtering your drinking water with systems certified to reduce PFAS levels can be an effective way to reduce your intake.
  • Be Cautious with Consumer Products: Avoid products marketed as "stain-resistant" or "waterproof" as they may contain PFAS. Check labels and opt for natural materials without these treatments when possible.
  • Stay Informed: Awareness and education are your first lines of defense. Keep abreast of new research and changes in regulations regarding PFAS and adjust your habits accordingly.

Advocating for Change

While individual actions are crucial, systemic change is essential to reduce PFAS exposure globally. Advocating for stricter regulations on PFAS production and use, supporting environmental cleanup efforts, and demanding transparency from manufacturers about chemicals in their products are all crucial steps in the fight against these dangerous chemicals. But... Like we’ve talked about in a previous article… Don’t be an asshole in your activism. Gluing yourself to the highway or throwing paint on priceless art doesn’t make you effective at enacting change. It just makes you a d*ck. 

PFAS represent a pervasive and persistent threat to public health, but by taking informed, proactive steps, we can protect ourselves and our families. At The Fittest, we encourage you to embrace these practices not just for your physical fitness but for your overall long-term health. Remember, the goal is not just to survive but to thrive and dominate, free from the insidious effects of environmental toxins.

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