Exposure to polyfluoroalkyl chemicals and cholesterol, body weight, and insulin resistance in the general U.S. population

Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Feb;118(2):197-202. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901165.


Background: Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs) are used commonly in commercial applications and are detected in humans and the environment worldwide. Concern has been raised that they may disrupt lipid and weight regulation.

Objectives: We investigated the relationship between PFC serum concentrations and lipid and weight outcomes in a large publicly available data set.

Methods: We analyzed data from the 20032004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for participants 1280 years of age. Using linear regression to control for covariates, we studied the association between serum concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), and perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) and measures of cholesterol, body size, and insulin resistance.

Results: We observed a positive association between concentrations of PFOS, PFOA, and PFNA and total and non-high-density cholesterol. We found the opposite for PFHxS. Those in the highest quartile of PFOS exposure had total cholesterol levels 13.4 mg/dL [95% confidence interval (CI), 3.823.0] higher than those in the lowest quartile. For PFOA, PFNA, and PFHxS, effect estimates were 9.8 (95% CI, 0.2 to 19.7), 13.9 (95% CI, 1.925.9), and 7.0 (95% CI, 13.2 to 0.8), respectively. A similar pattern emerged when exposures were modeled continuously. We saw little evidence of a consistent association with body size or insulin resistance.

Conclusions: This exploratory cross-sectional study is consistent with other epidemiologic studies in finding a positive association between PFOS and PFOA and cholesterol, despite much lower exposures in NHANES. Results for PFNA and PFHxS are novel, emphasizing the need to study PFCs other than PFOS and PFOA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alkanesulfonic Acids / adverse effects
  • Body Weight / drug effects*
  • Caprylates / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Cholesterol / blood*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Fluorocarbons / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Linear Models
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult


  • Alkanesulfonic Acids
  • Caprylates
  • Fluorocarbons
  • perfluorohexylhexane
  • perfluorooctanoic acid
  • Cholesterol
  • perfluorooctane sulfonic acid