Dealing with chronic illness can be a constant battle of managing all the things you put in your body—food, beverages, and medicines, for example.
But, what about those sneaky toxins and contaminants you simply can’t see or don’t know about—like the ones in your cookware? If you’ve heard things but aren’t really sure about what’s the deal with Teflon, BPA, and others, don’t miss this important go-to guide!
What exactly is Teflon? This man-made synthetic resin, also known as polytetrafluoroethylene, was introduced to the commercial market by way of non-stick cookware around the 1960s.
It wasn’t long before Teflon non-stick coating became a household staple on everything from pots and pans to cooking utensils.
What’s the danger?
It turns out that at high cooking temperatures (over 500 degrees Fahrenheit), the non-stick Teflon coating starts to break down and decompose, releasing fluorocarbon gases, which have been shown to kill birds and induce flu-like symptoms in humans.
Polymer fume fever, also referred to as “Teflon Flu”, can cause chills, headaches, fevers, and even acute lung injury with cough and chest tightness.
A 2015 case report and literature review from the Otha General Hospital Foundation in Japan found that systemic inflammation accompanied by pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the lungs) was a common response to inhaling toxic fumes from decomposing Teflon.
Using metal utensils on Teflon-coated cookware might also be dangerous as little flecks of the nonstick coating can potentially end up in your food.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, one of the most used organic chemical compounds worldwide, has become quite the hot button issue in the past 10 years.
Also launched into commercial use in the 1960s, BPA is incorporated into the manufacturing of certain plastics and resins. Right now, it may be lurking on the coating inside of your water bottle, a baby bottle, your sports equipment, DVDs…the list goes on.
BPA is referred to as an endocrine disrupting chemical, which means it is a compound that can interfere with your body’s endocrine system processes, for example, by mimicking naturally-occurring estrogen.
From the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:
“Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.”
Because of its pervasive use around the world and public outcry over health hazards, BPA has been banned by the European Union and Canada, and the Federal Drug Administration has banned it from use in baby bottles in the United States.
Ongoing research is being conducted to find more direct links between BPA exposure and adult health endangerment.
Nickel & Chromium
Allergic to nickel? A common cause of allergic contact dermatitis (itchy rash), nickel allergies typically affect the type of jewelry you buy, though it can be found in other things like eyewear, watches, and zippers.
Furthermore, it seems cooking in stainless steel pots may also negatively impact people who are highly sensitive to nickel.
Recent research revealed that nickel and chromium are released when cooking in stainless steel cookware, especially when acidic foods (lemon, tomato) are cooked in newer stainless steel pots and pans at higher temperatures (release of these dangerous heavy metals increases as cooking/boiling time increases).
While typically safe for people with nickel or chromium allergies, cooking with stainless steel cookware combined with naturally-occurring nickel in the food that is cooked may surpass the threshold for some allergy sufferers and induce an autoimmune response.
Is aluminum foil your go-to when roasting, baking, and grilling? Turns out aluminum pots and pans that are oxidized prior to distribution are considered safe, but aluminum foil may not be, especially when roasting acidic foods like lemons and tomatoes at high temperatures.
Aluminum is an element commonly found in foods like herbs, spices, and teas. It is also used as a coagulant in treated water. Aluminum can also be found in products like antiperspirants, antacids, astringents, and some cosmetics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While consumption occurs naturally on a day-to-day basis (you inhale, ingest, and take aluminum in through skin contact), the good news is that it is largely eliminated from your body through waste.
The World Health Organization does warn about taking in too much aluminum, however, as high levels in your body can negatively impact people with kidney disease, and have been linked to bone and brain diseases in children with existing kidney disease.
Some studies have also linked aluminum exposure to Alzheimer’s Disease, though a strong causal relationship has not been formed and continued research is needed to explore this possible connection.
Ever heard the term “PVC pipe”? The PVC refers to polyvinyl chloride, the world’s third most used plastic polymer. Commonly found in construction materials and electrical cables, PVC can also make its way into your kitchen in everything from drinking bottles, straws, food packaging, and shrink wrap.
The vinyl chloride in PVC is classified as a known human carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program and the phthalates added to PVC to make it softer and more flexible are also classified as endocrine disruptors (like BPA).
Concern over long-term exposure, especially because industrialized societies are essentially surrounded by PVC (thinking about all the pipes in your walls, vinyl siding, and flooring, etc.), was detailed in a 2011 study out of Sweden.
Researchers developing a model for ranking hazardous materials included PVC as one of the top 5 most dangerous for its carcinogenic properties and global production levels.
Reducing public health risk is a matter of limiting production, finding alternatives to PVC use, and even phasing it out.
It’s almost impossible to completely avoid PVC exposure because of its sheer ubiquitousness in everyday items and the environment. However, you can try and limit your use of #3 plastics (that’s PVC) and use your nose to sniff out potential PVC products (it gives off that “new shower curtain” smell).
You know how to understand blood pressure, recognize signs of infection, and control day-to-day symptoms. Your daily management of chronic illness already comes with its up and downs, is worrying about kitchen toxins worth the effort?
Well, it’s up to you. Even small steps, like switching to glass storage containers instead of plastic, can add up to big benefits not just for your health, but your peace of mind, too!