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Study finds link between POPs and liver diseases in Finland

Published : 03 Oct 2023, 21:59

  DF Report
Pixabay File Photo.

A link has been found between Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and liver diseases in Finland, according to a joint study conducted by physicians specialised in liver diseases of the Universities of Helsinki and Eastern Finland and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

Humans are exposed to these environmental pollutants mainly through food, such as fish, fruit, and meat and dairy products, said THL in a press release on Tuesday, quoting the study.

POPs include dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

“While PCBs, which were previously used in various industrial products, and OCPs, used in agriculture, were mostly banned in the 1970s and 1980s, due to their very high stability, they continue to circulate in the environment as a result of old emissions. However, their concentrations are in decline”, said Panu Rantakokko, Research Manager of THL.

“Meanwhile, PFAS are a highly diverse group of chemicals that have been and continue to be widely used in various applications. The bans on the use of PFAS known to be the most harmful to environment and human health have progressed since the turn of the millennium, and their concentrations in the population have also decreased significantly”, Rantakokko added.

The study found that the concentrations of POPs measured in blood were linked to marker concentrations indicating the deteriorated condition of the liver.

During a follow-up period of approximately eight years after POP concentration measurements, a link was observed between these environmental pollutants and an increased risk of hospitalisation caused by liver disease, development of liver cancer or death due to liver disease.

POPs have several known adverse effects on human health. Previous cell and animal testing has shown that high exposures to POPs cause various liver dysfunctions. However, relatively few studies have focused on the risks of low human exposure.

The research data included measurements of serum samples from 2,789 adults who participated in the Healthy Finland 2007 study, health surveys and the participants’ disease data obtained from the registers after 2007.

The link between high POP levels and later liver disease was clearest among the research subjects who also had other risk factors for liver disease, such as overweight, high alcohol consumption or whose liver condition had already deteriorated. However, the link between many POPs and liver damage also remained when the impact of health problems typical of liver diseases, such as overweight, diabetes and smoking were excluded.

Due to the nature of the study, it is difficult to establish a certain causal link between exposure to POPs and liver diseases.

However, the results of the study provide grounds for implementing further, more detailed biochemical and toxicological studies on the observed links. They can be used to determine whether POPs activate similar liver damage mechanisms in humans as those observed in animal studies.