The Docs: Nonstick pans, reducing stroke risk


Q: My mom gave me a set of nonstick pans for my first apartment, but my roommate won’t eat anything cooked in them. What’s the story? Are they really toxic?

  • Greta F., Nashville, Tenn.

A: Nonstick pans — that’s a slippery subject!

No regulatory agencies have determined that the standard coatings are a health risk (for what that’s worth), and they still account for around 60 percent of pots and pans sold in North America. So let’s look at what we do know about this sticky topic.

Most nonstick pans are made from anodized aluminum coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PFTE) — that’s Teflon — a super-smooth surface applied using the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). It’s PFOA that the Environmental Protection Agency calls a “likely human carcinogen” and that it is asking companies to stop using by next year. Luckily, it’s present in very, very small amounts in a finished nonstick surface.

PFTE isn’t supposed to be dangerous if it’s always used at low or medium temperatures. But when the pan hits 500 F, PFTE begins to decompose and emit toxins. The Good Housekeeping Institute found that if you preheat 2 teaspoons of oil in a lightweight nonstick pan on a high flame or burner, it passes 500 F in just 2.5 minutes; put in a burger, and in 8.5 minutes you’re in the red zone.

And if the pan goes above 660 F, as it easily can, the coating decomposes significantly.

At that point, toxin-laden fumes can trigger the Teflon flu in people (temporary flu-like symptoms) and kill birds (the canary was used in the mine shaft for a reason).

So, we say, why bother with these pans?

Go with newer, “green” nonstick pans, lined with a ceramic coating, micronized stone or even diamonds! They seem to be safer. Or just stick with stainless steel and cast iron (the original nonstick). Then show Mom this column so she can make healthier choices, too.

Q: My aunt, 72, had a ministroke and she’s not doing the things she was told to do, like quitting smoking, exercising and losing weight. She seems terrified, but she won’t change her bad habits. What can I do?

  • Arlene S., Katonah, N.Y.

A: You may be frustrated with your aunt for not taking better care of herself, but breaking old habits and replacing them with new ones isn’t easy, although it can be done very successfully. Plus, the repercussions of a ministroke can be far-reaching AND hard to recognize. A ministroke, also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), may cause no symptoms or ones that fade after a few minutes or a few hours.

Even though it isn’t as apparently traumatic as a full-blown stroke, one study found that almost a third of ministroke patients have symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), including depression, anxiety and reduced quality of life.

When your aunt had her TIA, her doctors probably explained that 40 percent of those who’ve had a TIA will go on to have a major stroke. You may think that a wake-up call like that would shock her into action, but PTSD may make her feel that change is futile. Well, it’s not!

Lifestyle changes can greatly reduce the risk of a recurrent TIA or the onset of a major stroke. That’s right: Your aunt can have a do-over, and she should start now!

A Swedish study found that a healthy diet, not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight reduces stroke risk by up to 54 percent; other sources say it’s up to 90 percent.

So get in touch with the National Stroke Association (800-STROKES or; it offers online education and lifestyle counseling through a number of channels.

She also should consider seeing a therapist who specializes in PTSD. In late February, Dr. Mike’s new book with a foreword by Dr. Oz — “This is YOUR Do-Over” — will be available.


(Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is chief wellness officer and chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily(at sign) Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.)

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