Non-stick pans can affect our hormones, new research suggests

Teflon pan

Consumers should look for alternatives to non-stick pans to reduce their exposure to dangerous chemicals

Norwegian study highlights the effects of PFC and PCB chemicals on human health

A group of chemicals found in common household items may be having dangerous effects on our hormones, new research suggests.

A study on sheep and cells grown in the laboratory by Norwegian vets found that perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) found in water resistant clothes and non-stick frying pans can affect the body’s steroid hormones including oestrogen, testosterone and cortisol. These hormones are necessary for regulating a number of bodily functions in humans and animals, including our ability to reproduce.

The research also discovered similar effects caused by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a group of chemicals that have been banned since the 1970s but continue to persist in the environment.

Limit exposure

Study author Dr. Marianne Kraugerud, from the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, said consumers could limit their exposure to both chemicals.

‘To regulate uptake of PFCs, one could try to limit the use of clothes treated with water and grease repellent containing PFCs.

‘It may also be wise to use cookware coated with non-stick "Teflon"-type coatings with care, especially when damaged. Alternatively, one may consider going back to the good old-fashioned cast iron frying pan,’ she said.

Phase out

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) said the research reinforced their calls for a phase out of PFCs from all products.

‘Scientists have known for a while that these pollutants can act as endocrine disruptors, so our position does not change with this research as we continue to call for the phasing out of PFCs from various consumer products,’ said WEG senior scientist Olga Naidenko.

Naidenko added however that individuals need not throw out Teflon products immediately, saying: ‘The incremental risks are small, so if someone has a Teflon pan set, we don’t suggest that people throw them all out on the spot – but it is wise to look for safer alternatives as time and budget allow,’ she said.

DuPont promises new chemical

The DuPont corporation, which produces Teflon products, disputed the findings saying that ‘while some associations have been reported, no human effects are known to be cause by PFOA [the PFC chemical in Teflon products]’.

However, the company added it was committed to removing PFOA chemicals from its products by 2015, saying it had developed ‘a new processing aid with a more favourable toxicological profile’.

Useful links

Endocrine disruption by persistent organic pollutants: effect studies using in vivo and in vitro models

* Since publication this article has been corrected to state the study showed pollutants can 'affect' rather than 'damage' the body's hormones.

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