Associations between serum perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl concentrations and diabetes mellitus in the Korean general population: Insights from the Korean National Environmental Health Survey 2018-2020

By Habyeong Kang and Shin-Hye Kim
Int J Hyg Environ Health
April 26, 2024
DOI: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2024.114385


Recent epidemiologic research has examined the relationship between perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and diabetes mellitus with inconclusive findings. In this cross-sectional study, we aimed to explore the association between serum PFAS concentrations and the prevalence of prediabetes and pre-diagnostic diabetes in the general Korean population as well as the combined effects of exposure to mixed PFAS compounds.


We analyzed data from participants aged ≥19 years enrolled in the Korean National Environmental Health Survey Cycle 4 (2018-2020). Individuals diagnosed with diabetes were excluded to minimize potential bias. We identified cases of pre-diagnostic diabetes based on the HbA1c level ≥6.5% and prediabetes as HbA1c levels of 5.7-6.49%. Serum concentrations of PFAS, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDeA), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), were quantified using high-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Survey-weighted logistic regression models were used to assess the relationships between PFAS levels and diabetes risk, adjusting for covariates. Additionally, Bayesian kernel machine regression (BKMR) was used to investigate the combined effects of exposure to mixed PFAS compounds.


In the study population excluding participants with diagnosed diabetes (n = 2709), the prevalence of pre-diagnostic diabetes and prediabetes was 4.8% and 30.1%, respectively. Significant positive associations were found between serum PFHxS and PFOS quartiles and pre-diagnostic diabetes risk. Likewise, among those without diagnosed or pre-diagnostic diabetes (n = 2579), the highest quartiles of PFDeA, PFHxS, and PFOS and the overall PFAS level were associated with an increased risk of prediabetes compared with the lowest quartiles. BKMR analysis revealed a significant positive association between overall serum PFAS level and prediabetes risk, which was most marked for PFOS.


These findings highlight the potential health implications of PFAS exposure and prediabetes risk. Further research is needed to validate these associations and identify potential mechanistic pathways.

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