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Persistent Organic Pollutants: The Invisible Threat to Chronic Health

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on May 10, 2023

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are a group of toxic, long-lasting chemicals that accumulate in the environment and living organisms, including humans. They pose a significant threat to public health and have been linked to an array of chronic diseases. In this blog post, we will discuss what POPs are, how they enter our bodies, and the link between POPs and chronic diseases. (1)

Understanding Persistent Organic Pollutants

POPs are a class of organic compounds that resist environmental degradation, allowing them to persist in the environment for long periods. They can be found in air, water, soil, and even our food supply. Common examples of POPs include pesticides such as DDT, industrial chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and byproducts of combustion, such as dioxins and furans. (2)

Exposure to POPs

Humans are exposed to POPs through various means, including the consumption of contaminated food, inhalation of polluted air, and contact with contaminated soil or water. POPs accumulate in fatty tissues of animals, and their concentrations increase as they move up the food chain. This process, known as biomagnification, leads to higher concentrations of POPs in predatory animals, including humans.

POPs and Chronic Diseases

Research has linked exposure to POPs with several chronic diseases, including:

  1. Cancer: Some POPs, like dioxins and PCBs, are known to be carcinogenic. Studies have shown an increased risk of cancer in populations exposed to high levels of these pollutants. (3)
  2. Endocrine Disruption: Many POPs can interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system, leading to hormonal imbalances and reproductive disorders. For example, exposure to certain pesticides has been linked to reduced fertility and an increased risk of endometriosis in women. (4)
  3. Neurological Disorders: Exposure to POPs during critical developmental periods, such as prenatal and early childhood, can result in neurological damage. Studies have found associations between POP exposure and cognitive impairment, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorders. (5)
  4. Immune System Dysfunction: Some POPs can suppress the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infections and autoimmune disorders. Studies have shown that exposure to certain POPs can lead to an increased risk of asthma and allergies. (6)
  5. Metabolic Disorders: POPs have been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that higher levels of POPs in the blood were associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (7)

Reducing Exposure and Supporting Health

Reducing exposure to POPs is crucial in preventing chronic health issues. Some ways to minimize exposure include:

  1. Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and choosing lean proteins and low-fat dairy products to reduce the intake of POPs found in animal fats.
  2. Opting for organic produce when possible to avoid pesticide residues.
  3. Using air purifiers and proper ventilation to minimize indoor air pollution.

Additionally, supporting the body's natural detoxification pathways through a healthy diet, regular exercise, and proper hydration can help eliminate toxins and reduce the harmful effects of POPs.

Persistent organic pollutants pose a significant threat to public health and have been linked to numerous chronic diseases. Reducing exposure to these pollutants and supporting the body's natural detoxification processes is essential to prevent and mitigate the impact of POPs on our health.


  1. Guillotin S, Delcourt N. Studying the Impact of Persistent Organic Pollutants Exposure on Human Health by Proteomic Analysis: A Systematic Review. Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Nov 17;23(22):14271. doi: 10.3390/ijms232214271. PMID: 36430748; PMCID: PMC9692675.
  2. Li QQ, Loganath A, Chong YS, Tan J, Obbard JP. Persistent organic pollutants and adverse health effects in humans. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2006 Nov;69(21):1987-2005. doi: 10.1080/15287390600751447. PMID: 16982537.
  3. Cole P, Trichopoulos D, Pastides H, Starr T, Mandel JS. Dioxin and cancer: a critical review. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2003 Dec;38(3):378-88. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2003.08.002. PMID: 14623487.
  4. Latini G, Knipp G, Mantovani A, Marcovecchio ML, Chiarelli F, Söder O. Endocrine disruptors and human health. Mini Rev Med Chem. 2010 Aug;10(9):846-55. doi: 10.2174/138955710791608271. PMID: 20482499.
  5. Tran NQV, Miyake K. Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Environmental Toxicants: Epigenetics as an Underlying Mechanism. Int J Genomics. 2017;2017:7526592. doi: 10.1155/2017/7526592. Epub 2017 May 8. PMID: 28567415; PMCID: PMC5439185.
  6. Gascon M, Morales E, Sunyer J, Vrijheid M. Effects of persistent organic pollutants on the developing respiratory and immune systems: a systematic review. Environ Int. 2013 Feb;52:51-65. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2012.11.005. Epub 2013 Jan 3. PMID: 23291098.
  7. Lee YM, Jacobs DR Jr, Lee DH. Persistent Organic Pollutants and Type 2 Diabetes: A Critical Review of Review Articles. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2018 Nov 27;9:712. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2018.00712. PMID: 30542326; PMCID: PMC6277786.

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