Written by Caitlin Schille
The danger of non-stick pans seems to be one of those circulating health issues. But with the constant flow of new research and differing opinions, it can be difficult to know what we should look out for. Let’s take a closer look at non-stick coatings and what the latest research shows.
Teflon is the brand name for the non-stick coatings found on many pans and other cookware. To make Teflon, a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is used. PFOA is a man-made chemical, and it is the main reason that some people have health concerns with non-stick coatings.
Why people are afraid of PFOA
PFOA is concerning to some because once it’s inside the body, it can be difficult to get rid of.
The main concern with PFOA is its potential to cause cancer. Studies with lab animals have found that PFOA increases the risk of some tumors, including tumors in the breasts, pancreas, liver and testicles.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified PFOA as being “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” It is only “possibly” carcinogenic because there is limited evidence in humans, so researchers rely on animal studies.
The greatest danger comes when Teflon is inhaled. When heated to very high temperatures (above 650°), the non-stick coating on pots and pans breaks apart and releases chemical fumes into the air, which we then breathe in. According to some, this results in the “Teflon flu”—also called polymer fume fever—bringing symptoms of chills, headaches and fever. Few human cases of Teflon flu have been reported, however, since it is difficult to get Teflon to that high of a temperature in a typical kitchen.
Ingesting Teflon is also a major concern, but there’s really nothing to worry about with that. When Teflon chips or flakes and falls into our food, the flakes will simply pass through the body without being absorbed or causing harm.
Why non-stick coatings might not be that big of a deal
Most of us don’t realize that we probably already have very low levels of PFOA in our bodies. According to the American Cancer Society, “studies have found that it [PFOA] is present worldwide at very low levels in just about everyone’s blood.”
Non-stick coatings aren’t the only source of PFOA. People can ingest PFOA from the local water supply, and PFOA is found in other products besides non-stick coatings, such as fabric protectors. PFOA can even be found in low levels in some foods. The American Cancer Society states that “non-stick cookware is not a significant source of PFOA exposure.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) helped clear some concerns when they stated that there is “suggestive evidence of carcinogenicity, but not sufficient to assess human carcinogenic potential.” Essentially, this means that while PFOA has been shown to cause tumors when given in very high doses to lab animals, the same effect has not been demonstrated in humans.
Furthermore, many of the large cookware manufacturers no longer use PFOA. Specifically, DuPont reports on their website that they stopped using PFOA in 2012.
The bottom line
Overall, PFOA and non-stick coatings on your cookware should be pretty low on your list of health concerns. PFOA is often getting replaced in cookware manufacturing, and the possibility of being exposed to enough PFOA to cause cancer is pretty rare in day-to-day living. In the scheme of things, there are more important health behaviors we can focus on, such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding texting while driving, getting enough sleep and avoiding cigarettes.
Sources: www.cancer.org, chemours.com
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