PFAS And Their Impact On Health

Expert Cited: Dr. Linda Birnbaum

Written by
Brian Leddy
Eye exam doctor and patient

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) have been around since the 1950s but they've been getting a lot more attention in recent years.

They were created for use in everyday products that were meant to be water, stain, and grease resistant (so a lot of cooking products, but also clothing and even health and beauty care items).

The problem with PFAS is they do not break down naturally in the environment, or our bodies, so they're just accumulating in our water, soil, and systems. 

Don't worry, you can take steps to mitigate your exposure to PFAS, and it's something you should strongly consider if you're trying to reduce the toxins in your environment to improve your health.

Expert: Dr. Linda S. Birnbaum

Field of Study: Toxicology

Bio: Dr. Linda Birnbaum, a renowned toxicologist, is an expert on the health impacts of environmental chemicals. She served as the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) from 2009-2019, leading federal research on environmental causes of disease. 

Health Risks Associated With PFAS

Dr. Linda Birnbaum is a renowned American toxicologist and environmental health advocate known for her research on the impact of chemicals on human health. She led the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and National Toxicology Program (NTP) from 2009-2019, directing federal research on environmental causes of disease.

In a lecture at Chicago University, she discussed PFAS in depth, calling out various health concerns with these "Forever Chemicals."


  • Specific Cancers: Dr. Birnbaum mentions strong associations between PFAS exposure and testicular and kidney cancer. She also notes growing evidence linking PFAS to other types of cancer, including liver cancer.
  • Mechanisms: While the exact mechanisms are still under investigation, PFAS may disrupt hormonal pathways, interfere with cellular processes, or suppress the immune system, potentially contributing to cancer development.

Metabolic Effects:

  • Obesity, Diabetes, and Heart Disease: Dr. Birnbaum mentions studies linking PFAS exposure to an increased risk of overweight, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Mechanisms: PFAS may disrupt metabolic pathways, interfere with hormone regulation (e.g., thyroid hormones), or contribute to chronic inflammation, all of which can increase the risk of metabolic disorders.

Immune System Dysfunction:

  • Autoimmunity and Immune Suppression: Dr. Birnbaum highlights evidence suggesting that PFAS can both enhance autoimmunity (where the immune system attacks the body's own tissues) and suppress immune function, making individuals more susceptible to infections.
  • Mechanisms: PFAS may disrupt immune cell signaling and function, leading to an imbalance in immune responses.

Liver Damage:

  • Elevated Cholesterol and Liver Enzymes: Studies have shown that PFAS exposure can lead to elevated levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and liver enzymes, indicating liver damage.
  • Mechanisms: PFAS may accumulate in the liver and interfere with its normal function, potentially contributing to fatty liver disease and other liver problems.

Developmental and Reproductive Effects:

  • Transcript Focus: While not explicitly detailed in this particular interview, Dr. Birnbaum mentions that other divisions at NIEHS were looking into the developmental effects of PFAS.
  • Other Research: Extensive research has linked PFAS to developmental issues like low birth weight, delayed development, and hormonal disruptions. Additionally, PFAS exposure has been associated with reduced fertility and pregnancy complications.

It's important to note that the research on PFAS is ongoing, and the full extent of their health effects is still being elucidated. 

However, the evidence presented by experts such as Dr. Birnbaum combined with a growing body of scientific literature, underscores the significant health risks associated with these pervasive chemicals.

If you're making efforts to detoxify your body and home, identifying and reducing products containing PFAS should be part of your planning.

Brian Leddy Profile Image
Brian Leddy CEO & Co-Founder, BodyStack (FDN-P)
Certified Functional Diagnostic Practitioner (FDN-P) and owner of Leddy Functional Wellness. Formerly an Adweek Executive and Media Entreprenuer, Brian pivoted his career to focus on inspiring and coaching people from all walks of life to make positive strides in their respective health journeys. Brian is a Co-Founder, and now serves as the CEO of BodyStack.
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