Scientists Rediscover Gory Medieval Hack For Purging ‘Forever Chemicals’ In The Body

They were onto something...

Scientists Rediscover Gory Medieval Hack For Purging ‘Forever Chemicals’ In The Body

Image: DMARGE/Politico

A study has found a medieval method that significantly reduces harmful PFAS levels in those frequently exposed to ‘forever chemicals’.

With modern-day food and drink becoming increasingly recognised for its dangerous — or at least drastically underappreciated — chemical content (the unfortunate link between Diet Coke sweetener and cancer is a prime and often-touted example) it should come as no surprise that people are turning to history for better ways of eating. Only weeks after we wrote about the grisly 3,000-year-old protein hack that built history’s fiercest warriors, a medieval blood treatment has been brought back to the table…

In a moment highly reminiscent of medieval blood-letting, modern science has found a way to reduce the levels of harmful ‘forever chemicals’ in the body through blood and plasma donations. A study conducted on Australian firefighters reveals that regular donations significantly lower the levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl-substances (PFASs) in the blood, providing a potential solution to a worsening environmental and health problem.

The Study

Firefighters, due to their exposure to chemical foams, have higher levels of PFASs in their blood when compared to the general population. PFASs — used in products like nonstick cookware, water-resistant materials, and paints — are notorious for their longevity in the environment and the human body. These chemicals have been linked to a swathe of health issues, including impaired immune function, thyroid disorders, and even cancer.

The study, conducted over 52 weeks, involved 285 firefighters who were each randomly assigned to donate plasma every six weeks, donate blood every 12 weeks, or — in the case of the control group — simply be observed. The results were telling. Plasma donation reduced the levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a common PFAS, by an average of 2.9 nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL), while blood donation reduced PFOS levels by 1.1 ng/mL. Those who did not donate showed no significant change.

Firefighting foam
Firefighting foam is full of PFAS. Image: American Chemical Society

Modern Twist On Medieval Practice

Historically, blood-letting was a common medical practice believed to cure various ailments by removing ‘bad blood.’ While modern science now acknowledges such practices were… misguided, the modern approach of blood and plasma donation has proven to have a massively beneficial effect on reducing PFAS levels in the body.

PFASs bind to serum proteins in the blood, so removing blood through donations effectively reduces these chemicals over time. Plasma donation, in particular, is more effective because it can be done more frequently and involves removing a larger volume of fluid.

This discovery opens up new avenues for addressing the widespread issue of PFAS contamination. Regular blood or plasma donations could become a recommended practice for individuals with high levels of these substances, particularly those in high-risk professions like firefighting.

medieval bloodletting with leeches
Leeches were often used for medieval bloodletting. Image: Britannica.

Further research is needed to fully understand the long-term health benefits and potential risks of such interventions but, compared to the dangers presented by the forever chemicals themselves, drawbacks may be hard to find. Future studies could explore whether similar benefits are observed in other populations with elevated PFAS levels, and then the population more broadly.

While the comparison to medieval blood-letting may seem dramatic, the practice of blood and plasma donation offers a scientifically sound method for reducing harmful ‘forever chemicals’ in the body that our medieval forebearers, while somewhat overenthusiastic about the practice, may have recognised long before us.