PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, a chemical commonly used to make fluoropolymers used in many products like nonstick pans and stain-resistant carpets and furniture, has been linked to an increased thyroid risk, according to a recent article in The Guardian.

The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck, helps control the body's metabolism. Hypothyroidism occurs when the gland is not active enough, which can cause people to gain weight or feel fatigued. An overactive thyroid, however, can speed up the heart rate and cause a person to lose weight, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Though the chemical is useful in keeping eggs from sticking to the bottom of a pan, a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives raises concerns about the chemical’s effect on the human body. It found that people with higher levels of PFOA in their blood were twice as likely to have thyroid problems than those with lower levels, though a direct correlation won’t be apparent until more research is conducted.

David Melzer, a coauthor of the report and professor of epidemiology and public health at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, told The Guardian: "There have long been suspicions that PFOA concentrations might be linked to changes in thyroid hormone levels. Our analysis shows that in the ordinary adult population, there is a solid statistical link between higher concentrations of PFOA in blood and thyroid disease."

In addition to thyroid problems, the inert chemicals have also been found to cause a variety of medical problems in animals, like cancer and liver damage. Unfortunately, the chemical is also persistent, so it builds up easily in animals and humans, according to one researcher interviewed for the story.

Because of its persistency and potential toxicity to humans, many scientists are calling for a full investigation into PFOA to verify if there is a direct link between exposure to the chemical and harm to human health. In the meantime, a number of companies are phasing out the chemical while others are finding greener alternatives to PFOA, like Ceramcor’s Xtrema cookware, which has been reviewed by MNN blogger Robin Shreeves.

Nonstick chemical linked to thyroid disease in humans
People with high levels of PFOA are more likely to have thyroid problems, British researchers say.