Associations between per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and diabetes in two population-based cohort studies from Sweden

Linda Dunder, Samira Salihovic, Sölve Elmståhl, P. Monica Lind, Lars Lind

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been suggested to contribute to the development of metabolic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). However, evidence from epidemiological studies remain divergent. The aim of the present study was to evaluate associations between PFAS exposure and prevalent diabetes in a cross-sectional analysis and fasting glucose in a longitudinal analysis. Methods: In 2373 subjects aged 45–75 years from the EpiHealth study, three PFAS; perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) were analyzed in plasma together with information on prevalent diabetes. Participants in the PIVUS study (n = 1016 at baseline, all aged 70 years) were followed over 10 years regarding changes in plasma levels of six PFAS; PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS, perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA), and perfluoroundecanoic acid (PFUnDA), and changes in plasma levels of fasting glucose. Results: In the EpiHealth study, no overall associations could be observed between the levels of PFOA, PFOS or PFHxS and prevalent diabetes. However, there was a significant sex-interaction for PFOA (p = 0.02), and an inverse association could be seen between PFOA (on a SD-scale) and prevalent diabetes in women only (OR: 0.71, 95% CI: 0.52, 0.96, p-value: 0.02). This association showed a non-monotonic dose-response curve. In the PIVUS study, inverse relationships could be observed between the changes in levels (ln-transformed) of PFOA and PFUnDA vs the change in fasting glucose levels (ln-transformed) over 10 years (p = 0.04 and p = 0.02, respectively). As in EpiHealth, these inverse associations were significant only in women (PFOA: β: −0.03, p = 0.02, PFUnDA: β: −0.03, p = 0.03). Impact: Exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has been linked to unfavorable human health, including metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. However, results from in vivo, in vitro and epidemiological studies are incoherent. The aim of the present study was therefore to investigate associations between PFAS and diabetes in a cross-sectional study and glucose levels in a longitudinal study. Results show inverse associations in women only. Results also display non-monotonic dose response curves (i.e., that only low levels of PFOA are related to higher probability of prevalent diabetes). This suggests that sex differences and complex molecular mechanisms may underlie the observed findings. A better understanding of the factors and molecular mechanisms contributing to such differences is recognized as an important direction for future research. Conclusions: PFOA was found to be inversely related to both prevalent diabetes and changes in plasma glucose levels among women only. Thus, our findings suggest there are sex differences in the inverse relationship of PFOA and type 2 diabetes and glucose levels. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)748-756
JournalJournal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology
Issue number5
Early online date2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Endocrinology and Diabetes

Free keywords

  • Cross-sectional
  • Diabetes
  • Longitudinal
  • Metabolomics
  • Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)


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