Polychlorinated biphenyls: persistent pollutants with immunological, neurological, and endocrinological consequences

Altern Med Rev. 2011 Mar;16(1):5-13.


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are considered "persistent organic pollutants;" fat-soluble compounds that bioaccumulate in individuals and bio-magnify in the food chain. PCBs were the first industrial compounds to experience a worldwide ban on production because of their potent toxicity. These compounds are still present in our food supply (fish, dairy, hamburger, and poultry being the most contaminated) and our bodies. Once in the body, they can cause long-term problems, especially for those exposed in utero. PCB bioaccumulation can lead to reduced infection fighting ability, increased rates of autoimmunity, cognitive and behavioral problems, and hypothyroidism. Some research also links PCBs to increased rates of type 2 diabetes. Testing is currently available for some of the most damaging PCBs. The testing compares individual levels to national reference values and can be interpreted to determine current exposure. Dietary measures can be enacted that will reduce PCB half-lives in humans by increasing excretion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogens / pharmacokinetics
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Endocrine System / drug effects
  • Endocrine System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Endocrine System Diseases / prevention & control
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Pollutants / pharmacokinetics
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Food Contamination
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Immune System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Immune System Diseases / prevention & control
  • Immunity / drug effects
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Nervous System Diseases / prevention & control
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / pharmacokinetics
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity*
  • Risk Factors


  • Carcinogens
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls