Can polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) be linked to my high blood pressure?

Do you have high blood pressure? It may have less to do with the food you eat and more to do with the chemicals in your body. A new study published online this week in the Journal of Hypertension has found a possible link between hypertension, or high blood pressure, and polychlorinated biphenyls, chemicals known as PCBs.

PCBs were used frequently in industrial products during much of the 20th century. But they were banned in the U.S. in 1979 after fears arose about a possible link between PCBs and adverse health effects such as cancer. More than 30 years have passed since the ban, but PCBs still linger in air, water and soil, and are prevalent in human bodies.

In the study, researchers tested the blood of 758 Alabama city residents (407 whites, 351 blacks) and checked their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The researchers focused on 394 people who were not on high blood pressure medications. After taking into account risk factors for hypertension like gender and obesity, the researchers found that those with the highest levels of PCBs in their bodies were more than 3.5 times more likely to have high blood pressure than those with lower levels.

"We were surprised what a strong relationship we found," said study co-author Dr. David O. Carpenter, a public health physician and director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany in Rensselaer, NY. The researchers were also quick to point out that the relationship may not necessarily indicate that PCBs cause high blood pressure, but the study certainly shows that more research in this area is warranted.

The study was funded by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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