Household Chemicals PFAS and Phthalates Alter Gut Microbiome: Study

In another new study scientists have again found that synthetic/industrialized chemicals commonly found in our food and home environment alter our gut microbiome.  This is a critical confirmation of the findings found previously because gut microbiome–the community of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit the human gastrointestinal tract–has recently come under close scrutiny by the medical science community because several serious health conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, painful nerve conditions, asthma, depression, intestinal disorders, insomnia, diabetes, food sensitivities and allergies, among other conditions, have been suspected to be linked to an imbalance in gut microbiome. 

 

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Industrial Chemicals Linked to Changes in the Gut Microbiome

There will no doubt be more synthetic and industrialized chemicals tested in the future, but for now the two chemical families that have been linked with altering gut microbiome are phthalates and PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl).  Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with these two industrial chemicals because they have been featured in numerous scientific studies in recent years that have linked them to a host of serious health outcomes including weight gain and obesity, autism, heart disruptions, infertility/reproductive problems, birth defects, dental problems, thyroid disorders, diabetes, intestinal disorders, and in children, language delays, motor control problems, and lowered IQ, among other problems. 

Both phthalates and PFAS chemical families are ubiquitous–their use has been so widespread by industrial manufacturers that you would need to leave the planet Earth to escape them. Phthalates are found in our food (seeping from food packaging) and wide range of personal care products like shampoos, dental floss, hair products and cosmetics, and home products like flooring, vinyl shower curtains, detergents and household cleaning products, to name a few.  The PFAS “forever” family of chemicals are found in the food we eat (leaching from food containers, nonstick cookware and food packaging), paints and stains, electronics, clothing (especially waterproof and stain-proof varieties), furniture and cleaning products, among other places.

 

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Study Overview

Researchers measured levels of ubiquitous phthalates and PFAS semi-organic chemical compounds in the blood and urine of 69 toddlers and preschoolers.  Following this, using fecal samples, they studied the children’s gut microbiomes.

Study Findings Overview

Scientists found that children who had higher levels of the chemicals in their bloodstream showed marked differences in their gut microbiome. Children with higher levels of PFASs in their blood had a reduction in the amount and diversity of bacteria, while increased levels of phthalates were associated with a reduction in fungi populations.

“The correlation between the chemicals and less abundant bacterial organisms was especially pronounced and potentially most concerning.” 

-Dr. Courtney Gardner, lead researcher, assistant professor, Washington State University

The researchers also found, surprisingly, that the children who had high levels of chemical compounds in their blood also had in their gut several types of bacteria that have been used to clean up toxic chemicals.

What’s next

The lead researcher in this latest study hopes to use the information gathered from the study to develop a diagnostic tool for people and perhaps future probiotic interventions to improve health outcomes. “Gaining a more holistic understanding of the interactions between man-made chemicals, the gut microbiome, and human health is a critical step in advancing public health.”


Journal Reference: Gardner, C., et al.  Exposures to Semivolatile Organic Compounds in Indoor Environments and Associations with the Gut Microbiomes of Children, Environmental Science and Technology Letters, Nov. 2, 2020, Abstract,  Summary,                        DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00776