A team of U.S. scientists has found a link between osteoarthritis and chemicals with common industrial and consumer uses. They noted a strong association between one of them and research subjects who were women.
The study established a relationship between exposure to two common perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and osteoarthritis, according to ScienceDaily. The researchers have published their work in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) and represent two institutions: Yale University and Brigham and Women's Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School.
PFCs have had more than 200 industrial and consumer uses. The research team is the first to examine the relationships between two subtypes -- perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) -- and this type of arthritis in subjects that mirror the U.S. population.
Their report in EHP indicates that they also sought to determine whether exposure to either PFOA or PFOS was linked to particular associations with men and women. They concluded that higher concentrations of serum PFOA tracked to osteoarthritis in female subjects but not in males. They were able to associate PFOS with the disease in women only, though the effect did not appear significant.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PFOA is a man-made chemical not found naturally in the environment. It's also known as "C8." Among its hundreds of applications are use in non-stick cookware surfaces and breathable and waterproof clothing membranes.
The Arthritis Foundation indicates that osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, affects around 27 million Americans and is the result of cartilage wear and tear. It accounts for as much as $13.2 billion a year in job-related costs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
Subjects in the PFC study ranged from 20 to 84 years old. Researchers analyzed data from 2003 through 2008. Women deemed to be in the highest 25 percent of PFOA exposure had roughly double the chance of having osteoarthritis as those in the bottom quarter of exposure.
Use of PFOA and PFOS has waned because of safety concerns. However, human and environmental exposure is still significant. The researchers acknowledge the need for additional studies on the differences between the effect on men and women.
Osteoarthritis is commonly acknowledged as more prevalent in women than men after age 55. Shortly after reaching that age, I was diagnosed by an orthopedic surgeon as having the disease in my knees, hands, and wrists.
I didn't have to think long about my background to spot PFC exposure. I grew up with a factory two lots from home. My father worked as a mechanic on gasoline tankers and turned our garage into a mini service area where he could tinker with cars as a hobby. Neither parent complained of arthritis. While I can't prove that chemicals used near my home are linked to my own osteoarthritis, I would hardly be surprised at an association.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.
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