PFCs Suppress Immune System
While mass media outlets focused on a study’s implications on vaccines, the bigger news discovered by recent Harvard School of Public Health research on perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) is that PFCs weaken and suppress the immune system.
The study also underscored the significant bioaccumulation of PFCs up the marine food chain within the ocean.
The Harvard researchers, who teamed up with Danish researchers, followed 587 children from Faroe Islands, Denmark, from birth (1999-2001) until they were five to seven years old, in 2008.
The researchers found that exposure levels of PFCs were significantly higher among these children because their primary diets consisted of fish.
Furthermore, the researchers discovered that children with higher levels of PFC exposure had increased suppression of their immune response, evident by their antibody levels following vaccination. The researchers found that following being given tetanus and diphtheria vaccinations, the resulting antibody concentrations against these diseases were precariously low among children with high PFC contamination, indicating they were not well protected against those diseases.
The mechanism for this protection is the strength of the immune system. When the immune system is strong and working properly, it will form antibodies to many diseases it is exposed to. Vaccinations expose the immune system to a small amount or genetic element of the disease pathogen, allowing the immune system to form antibodies that will identify the pathogen later and help the body efficiently eradicate it.
The research data revealed that double the baseline of PFC concentration in the children’s blood was accompanied by a 40% reduction in diphtheria antibodies. More importantly, double the PFC concentrations was linked to an almost 50% reduction in total antibody levels. This means that the child’s total immunity was weaker to all diseases, since it produced fewer antibodies in general.
This was reflected in the researcher’s conclusion, as they wrote: “Elevated exposures to PFCs were associated with reduced humoral immune response to routine childhood immunizations in children aged 5 and 7 years.”
Previous animal studies have confirmed that PFCs suppress the immune system, and at levels consistent with current human exposure levels.
Studies by the EPA and other groups have confirmed that the most prevalent PFCs are perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). These are derived from numerous sources, including plastic products – as many foods are wrapped in grease-resistant plastic linings; pan coatings – as many nonstick pans are coated with PFOA-containing Teflon; and numerous household and personal care items, including some dental flosses, which have contained Teflon.
Other sources include manufacturers that spill-off chlorinated byproducts into their waste waters, which find their way to the oceans, marine habitat and our drinking water. In an effort to reduce PFCs after findings found links to cancer, the EPA instituted a ban on PFCs in many consumer goods as of 2015, but now even many PFOA replacements have been found to release PFCs.
The researchers also took PFC measurements of the children’s mothers during pregnancy. Because PFCs have been found to be released through the placenta from mother to child, children of mothers with expanded fish diets tend to have higher levels.
Grandjean P, Andersen EW, Budtz-Jørgensen E, Nielsen F, Mølbak K, Weihe P, Heilmann C. Serum vaccine antibody concentrations in children exposed to perfluorinated compounds. JAMA. 2012 Jan 25;307(4):391-7.