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Uncovering the Dangers of ‘Forever Chemicals’ and the Advantages of Embracing Aging

Two new studies are out, revealing the public’s unawareness of the risks of “forever chemicals” and showing a striking link between a person’s positive perception of aging and his or her longevity.

A sweeping study conducted by Texas A&M AgriLife scientists has found the vast majority of Americans are not aware of the potential dangers from perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known by the abbreviation PFAS, or “forever chemicals.” Since they have a very strong carbon-fluorine link, these man-made compounds, widely used in industrial processes and consumer products, are notoriously difficult to break down, it is for this reason they came to be known as “forever chemicals.”

These results are alarming: 45% of the respondents never heard of PFAS, and an additional 32% had heard of them but did not know what they were. The lack of awareness is what’s even more concerning, given that PFAS has been detected in food and water supplies. Some potential health risks include increased cholesterol levels, decreased response to vaccines in children, changes in liver enzymes, increased risk of pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure in pregnant women, small decreases in infant birth weights, and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, according to the CDC. The Environmental Protection Agency includes this list of risks but adds developmental delays, bone variations, behavioral changes, reduced immune system response, and possible interference with natural hormones.

In contrast to this, a study in the journal The Gerontologist takes a fairly positive angle on successful aging. A research team led by Rachel Pruchno, a medicine professor at the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging at the Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine, showed that how well individuals in the 50 to 74-year-old range thought they were aging was strongly tied to the risk of death within nine years. The scientists used data collected from 5,483 individuals living in New Jersey to analyze the relationship between a positive attitude toward aging termed “subjective successful aging,” and risk of mortality this showed a lessened mortality risk. In fact, for every one-point increase in this positivity, the risk of mortality decreased by 3%.

“My research provides a new and helpful way to understand the link between how people feel about their aging experience and mortality,” Pruchno said. “The next important question my team is tackling is learning what changes people can make in their lives to ensure that they will age successfully.”

Such contrasting findings further underline the role of public awareness, education on environmental and health issues, and the cultivation of positive attitudes toward aging. As researchers stay engrossed in uncovering mysteries on these subjects, it becomes more than ever incumbent upon individuals and communities to remain updated and proactive toward the protection of their well-being.

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