Are common household products to blame? Among the most concerning chemicals are perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which are used to make frying pans and waffle irons nonstick. However, they also are sprayed onto stain-resistant carpeting and breathable fabrics, and are used in wood sealants and food packaging — sources that might carry greater risk than nonstick pans, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and other sources.
In particular, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are known to be carcinogenic and lead to hormone disruption and liver damage in animals. Meanwhile, a 2010 analysis in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that men and women in the highest quartile for serum PFOA levels were twice as likely to have a thyroid disorder as those with lower levels of PFOA in their systems.
Until conclusive data exist suggesting otherwise, here are some ways to reduce household exposure:
- Choose unpackaged whole food over packaged, processed foods.
- Avoid slick, nonstick food packaging like microwave popcorn bags and coated coffee cups.
- When you're away from home, use a stainless steel mug for hot drinks, and tote your food in reusable glass or ceramic dishware.
- When eating microwave meals, put them onto a plate rather than heating them in their plastic containers.
- Use safer alternatives to Teflon like Thermolon (used in Green Pan cookware) or seasoned cast iron.
- Avoid scratched Teflon pans, which may leach more PFOA into food.
- Don't overheat your Teflon pan without food in it; when Teflon reaches a temperature of 260 degrees Fahrenheit, it begins to release toxic gases that we can breathe in.
- For household cleaning, seek natural alternatives like baking soda, white vinegar and vegetable oil-based soaps to get household stains out.
- Avoid carpeting that has been chemically treated to be stain resistant.
- To minimize environmental exposures, drink tap water that has been run through a filter tested to eliminate organic compounds.
As a general recommendation in our increasingly toxic environment, make a habit of a cleansing regimen once or twice per year. Use sauna and exercise to work up a sweat for an hour or more at a time. Sweat is one of the best ways to eliminate fat-soluble toxins from the body, including PFCs, and can help protect you from overload of most man-made toxins.
For more information, the Environmental Working Group provides additional research and resources.
Ryan Robbins, ND, is a naturopathic physician and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University. Call (206) 834-4100 to schedule an appointment.