We have all heard about how teflon keeps things from sticking. It has become such common knowledge that a mafia kingpin who continued to evade prosecution was called "teflon Don." Nothing could stick to him. While nothing sticks to it, teflon does stick to us, and may affect our ability to stick to tasks.
Teflon is made up of chemicals known as perflourinated chemicals, or PFCs for short. PFCs are also used in clothing and fabrics to repel water and stains (think scotchguard and goretex). It is also in food packaging, paper and personal care products. According to the ongoing studies at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), PFCs are now regularly found in all U.S. residents. In their latest report, they found twelve different PFC in the serum samples they tested. Of those twelve compounds, four (PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA and PFOS) were found in virtually everyone that they took samples from. Of these compounds PFOS (perflourooctane sulfonic acid) was in levels that were close to 20-fold higher than each of the others present. According to the CDC report PFOS has been associated with a variety of health problems including weight loss, liver damage and thyroid problems. If a fetus is exposed to PFOS they are more likely to be born with defects and to have developmental problems.
PFCs have been found in the environment and in livestock as well as people.Once in the body, or the environment, these chemicals are very resistant to being broken down. They just don't get metabolized well and will persist for very long periods of time. A study of individuals who drank water with PFOA in it revealed that it took over 2 years for the level of PFOA to be reduced by 50%! That means that any PFOA exposure will not be fully cleared out of the body for over 10 years. It really is sticky!
Researchers in Boston looked at the levels of various PFCs in children with and without a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They found that for each additional 1microgram per liter of blood of various PFCs that the rate of ADHD went up from between 3 - 32%. Not surprisingly the associations were found for the four PFCs that the CDC found most commonly in the US population (PFOA, PFOS, PFNA and PFHxS). After that study came out a researcher at Syracuse University decided to see of higher levels of these PFCs would lead to greater impulsivity in children. Greater impulsivity is a hallmark feature of ADHD and greatly effects "executive functions". They actually devised a wonderful study with 83 children between the ages of 9 and 11. All the children had their blood measured for the PFCs and then they played a computer game with only one rule: they must wait at least 20 seconds between pressing the space bar. When they waited the full 20 seconds they got a 25-cent reward, if they waited less than 20 seconds they got no reward. The researchers found that the higher the blood levels of PFCs were, the more difficulty the children had with waiting. They just kept being "impulsive".
So, while things may slide right off of teflon, it sticks quite well to us humans and may very well be a factor in causing some of us to not be able to "stick to it."
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