Can We Protect Ourselves from "Forever Chemicals"?

Can We Protect Ourselves from

By Andrea Bartels CNP NNCP RNT
Registered Nutritional Therapist

09 Nov 2020

Can We Protect Ourselves from "Forever Chemicals"?

PFOS, PFTE and PFOA are three related chemicals celebrated for their anti-stick, water-repellent and oil-repellent qualities. Sounds great, doesn't it? The problem is, they are completely non-biodegradable substances, or "forever chemicals". That is to say, once they enter our bodies and our environment, they cannot disintegrate--- so they're likely there forever. Here are five common products that often contain TeflonTM (PFOA) and ScotchGuardTM (PFOS), which are two of these forever anti-stick materials (with alternatives suggested later in this post):

  1. Non-stick cookware
  2. Windshield-washer fluid
  3. Dental floss
  4. Wrinkle-resistant and water-repellent clothing
  5. Bicycle chain lubricant
  6. Furniture upholstery

Birds are particularly vulnerable to TeflonTM, with many reports of pet birds spontaneously dying in homes where significant off-gassing of these chemicals was occurring in the kitchen. Investigation showed that the birds died by inhalation of the chemicals, which coated their lungs and caused suffocation. Birds are definitely still the proverbial canaries of the coal mine, their deaths the warning bell for the toxicity of modern living that should have us questioning chemical product safety.

Although in-depth studies are needed to find out whether anything can displace TeflonTM from our lungs once it's there, it stands to reason that reducing our exposures is key to our health and longevity. After all, breathing is kind of important!

Here are some ways to reduce your exposure to the PFAS group of forever-chemicals:

  1. Choose ceramic, titanium-coated cookware, glass, stoneware or silicon baking containers.
  2. Choose basic alcohol-only anti-freeze.
  3. Use silk floss or bamboo-sourced dental floss.
  4. Buy second-hand clothing to reduce demand for new TeflonTM-coated products. Choose natural fibers like cotton, wool, silk, bamboo, hemp, and get an iron that doesn't have a non-stick coating.
  5. Choose a vegetable oil-based bike chain lubricant.
  6. Before buying new furniture or a mattress, contact the manufacturer to find out if their products have been treated with ScotchGuardTM or other waterproof coatings, and if so, keep looking elsewhere. Organic mattresses are usually not treated.
  7. Vacuum under furniture frequently using a vacuum that contains a HEPA-filter.

Realistically speaking, we cannot avoid exposure to "forever-chemicals" entirely. That's why giving our bodies what they require for immune and respiratory health is so important. Here are a few of those nutrients:

Vitamin A (retinol) is the nutrient critical for healthy mucous membranes within the lungs. Without adequate vitamin A, the lining of our nostrils, sinuses, throat, lungs, uro-genital tract and entire digestive system would fail to function as a key barrier in immune defenses against incoming viruses and pathogenic bacteria. However, when it comes to nutrition, vegans need to know that beta-carotene found in orange fruits and vegetables is NOT equivalent to retinol; rather, this carotenoid is only a pre-cursor to vitamin A. To make retinol we need adequate intake of the mineral, zinc---which also has vital roles in immunity.

Selenium is used by the immune system and the thyroid gland in the following ways. It's a key ingredient of immune-building selenoproteins, as well as glutathione peroxidase—an antioxidant that our body's generate to protect us from the fallout of excessive chemical exposures. Second, selenium is needed to convert inactive thyroid hormones (T4) to active thyroid hormones (T3), which controls the rate of chemical reactions in the body. These chemical reactions include those used by the liver to process toxins, as well as how quickly we utilize energy produced from food, among many others.

Vitamin C: There are several ways that vitamin C fights infectious agents. It enhances the production and proliferation of both B and T lymphocytes, immune cells involved in response to infection. It improves the mobility of phagocytes-the cells that 'eat' pathogens and infected tissue. Additionally, vitamin C is involved in antibody production against pathogens, so that we have immunity to them the next time they come around. Further, as an antioxidant, this vitamin also regenerates other antioxidants like glutathione and vitamin E-resulting in even greater protection against the oxidative stress caused by toxic chemicals, as well the inflammatory response to infection. Finally, in high doses, ascorbic acid has also been shown to be toxic to certain pathogens and abnormal cells. Put all these talents together, and you can see how valuable vitamin C is to the immune system.

Take Action Now
Improving our resistance to infection and its complications of the respiratory tract includes both toxic exposure reduction and augmentation of essential nutrients. Replacing some of the seemingly innocuous household products and housewares with safer alternatives is a start; improving our nutrition will complement our efforts even further.

References/Further Reading

Andrews, David. Environmental Working Group. INSIGHT: the Case for Regulating All PFAS Chemicals as a Class. May 20, 2019.
Axelson, Rick. Teflon (Polytetrafluoroethylene) Poisoning in Birds. Accessed November 5th. 2020.
Environmental Working Group. Canaries in the Kitchen. May 15, 2003.
Environmental Working Group. What Are Forever Chemicals?
Hunt C., Chakravorty N.K., Annan G., Habibzadeh N., Schorah C.J. The clinical effects of vitamin C supplementation in elderly hospitalised patients with acute respiratory infections. Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res. 1994;64:212-219.
Johnston CJ, Finkelstein JN, Gelein R, Baggs R, Oberdörster G. Characterization of the early pulmonary inflammatory response associated with PTFE fume exposure. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1996 Sep;140(1):154-63. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Zinc: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
Shimizu T, Hamada O, Sasaki A, Ikeda M. Polymer fume fever. BMJ Case Rep. 2012;2012:bcr2012007790. Published 2012 Dec 10.
Steinbrenner H, Al-Quraishy S, Dkhil MA, Wunderlich F, Sies H. Dietary selenium in adjuvant therapy of viral and bacterial infections. Adv Nutr. 2015;6(1):73-82. Published 2015 Jan 15.

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