Common Household Chemical May Double Heart Disease Risk


A new clinical study finds that a common household chemical (perfluorooctanoic acid) may double the risk of heart disease.




Cardiovascular disease continues to be one of the most common causes of disability and death, accounting for one out of every four deaths in the United States.  The most common risk factors for cardiovascular disease are well known, and include lack of physical activity, obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, elevated cholesterol, and diabetes.  Additionally, a strong family history of cardiovascular disease, particularly at an early age, also increases one’s risk of cardiovascular disease.  Now, a newly published research study raises the possibility that a manmade chemical commonly found in household products may also significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.  This new study appears in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) appears in numerous household products, including carpet-care products, clothing, floor-care products, non-stick surfaces in cookware and paper food-wrapping products, polishes, dental floss, and implantable medical devices, among others.  In fact, PFOA is so ubiquitous in the United States that it is detectable in the blood of 98 percent of the population.  Moreover, once ingested, PFOA remains in the human body for many years, and can therefore accumulate at increasingly higher levels over time.

In addition to being a known carcinogen, PFOA has been previously linked with cardiovascular disease in animal studies.  Therefore, this new clinical study was designed to assess the association between cardiovascular disease and blood levels of PFOA in humans.  In this clinical study, 1,216 volunteers were recruited from the ongoing National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) prospective public health study, and were tested for the level of PFOA in their blood.  They also underwent both extensive surveys regarding their health and physical examinations for signs of peripheral arterial disease.  Importantly, known risk factors for cardiovascular and peripheral artery disease were assessed in each of these volunteers, and this information was used to improve the accuracy of the study’s conclusions regarding PFOA and the risk of cardiovascular and peripheral arterial disease.

Even after correcting for preexisting risk factors for cardiovascular and peripheral arterial disease, this study found a significant association between PFOA levels in the blood and the incidence of cardiovascular disease and peripheral arterial disease.  When comparing volunteers with the lowest and highest levels of PFOA, patients with the highest levels of POFA were found to have two times the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and almost twice the risk of developing peripheral arterial disease.  Once again, the association between PFOA levels in the blood and the risk of cardiovascular and peripheral arterial disease remained even after correcting for gender, age, race/ethnicity, smoking status, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.

While the findings of this study will have to be verified by additional and larger prospective clinical studies, these findings do nonetheless raise concerns that PFOA may, itself, be an independent cause of cardiovascular and peripheral vascular disease.  Given that almost every adult in the United States has at least some measurable concentration of PFOA in their blood, even a small associated increase in the risk of cardiovascular and peripheral vascular disease could have a significant impact on the overall incidence of these diseases within the larger population.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 40 percent of adult Americans already have at least two conventional cardiovascular disease risk factors.  However, given that PFOA is present in virtually everyone’s body, our risk of cardiovascular and peripheral artery disease may actually be significantly higher than previously appreciated, based upon the findings of this important new clinical study.


At this time, more than 8 percent of Americans are unemployed.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty between September 2001 and December 2011 is now more than 12 percent.  A new website, Veterans in Healthcare, seeks to connect veterans with potential employers.  If you are a veteran who works in the healthcare field, or if you are an employer who is looking for physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, corpsmen/medics, or other healthcare professionals, then please take a look at Veterans in Healthcare. As a retired veteran of the U.S. Army, I would also like to personally urge you to hire a veteran whenever possible.

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Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


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