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Exposure to Two Common Chemicals May Cause Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic, disabling condition that affects nearly 50 percent of people by the time they reach the age of 85 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two out of every three people who are obese will develop symptomatic OA of the knee(s) during their lifetime. As for hip OA, 25 percent of individuals develop this painful condition during their lives. It is estimated that by the year 2030, as many as 67 million Americans over the age of 18 will be diagnosed with arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is referred to as "wear and tear" arthritis, because it occurs when cartilage breaks down on the ends of the bones where joints connect. The most commonly affected joints are the hands, knees, hips, and low back region. OA will worsen as time goes by, and currently, there is no cure for this disease.

Researchers Find an Association between PFCs and OA

Researchers have now linked exposure to two common perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) to osteoarthritis. These types of chemicals are used in around 200 consumer products and industrial processes, such as water-resistant fabrics, stain-resistant fabrics, grease-proof paper food containers, and personal care items. PFCs are considered to be contaminants of human life and wildlife.

Published in Environmental Health Perspectives, this new study investigated perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and how these chemicals were associated with osteoarthritis in participants from the United States. The researchers were affiliated with Yale and Harvard Medical Schools. Lead author, Sarah Uhl, stated that the team found that PFOA and PFOS exposures were linked to a higher prevalence of OA, especially in women.

Researchers Evaluate Data from NHANES 2003 to 2008

The researchers evaluated data from six years of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), from 2003 to 2008. This afforded them the ability to view factors such as income, age, and ethnicity. They also screened data for men and women separately. They found that women with the highest 25 percent of exposure to PFOA were twice as likely to have OA as compared to those in the lowest 25 percent exposure percentile.

Exposure to PFOA and PFOS has declined in the U.S., as production and usage has declined in the last four decades, mainly because of safety issues. This is due to strict guidelines put forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Association and (OSHA). However, environmental and human exposure to these chemicals stills is widespread.


This research team believes more studies need to be done to establish possible biological mechanisms for these findings. Also, scientists need a better understanding of the ill effects of PFCs so they can identify and protect susceptible populations and reduce associated health impacts and unnecessary exposures.


Sarah A. Uhl, Tamarra James-Todd, Michelle L. Bell. Association of Osteoarthritis with Perfluorooctanoate and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate in NHANES 2003–2008. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2013; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1205673

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