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Ask Dr. Mike: Toxins in Your Carpet & Are Saturated Fats Bad?

Here you'll find the answers to a wealth of health and wellness questions posed by Healthy Talk fans. Listen in because what you know helps ensure healthy choices you can live with. Today on Healthy Talk, you wanted to know:

One of your guests mentioned that carpets are full of toxins. What toxins are present, and will steam cleaning help?

Up to 70 percent of U.S. homes contain carpets, which are full of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). These are different types of chemicals that are released into your home, which you breathe in and have been known to cause cardiovascular problems and other health issues.

Before you move into a new house, you should get the carpet steam cleaned. Or, if you live in an apartment or home that already contains carpet, you might want to consider steam cleaning your carpet while wearing a mask.

Can you please explain why saturated fats may not be so bad after all?

Fats have been getting a bad reputation for decades. Back in the 80s, saturated fat was blamed for raising your LDL cholesterol levels... which is true. However, there are different types of LDLs and HDLs that don't cause arterial plaque and go to your liver where they're processed.

If you have a health question or concern, Dr. Mike encourages you to write him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call in, toll-free, to the LIVE radio show (1.844.305.7800) so he can provide you with support and helpful advice.

RadioMD Presents: Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: April 30, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

You're listening to RadioMD. It's time to Ask Dr. Mike on Healthy Talk. Call or email to ask your questions now. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 877-711-5211. The lines are open.

DR MIKE: So, my first question is a follow up. I had a guest on recently that was talking about the toxic pathway of cancers. His name was Raymond Francis. And I think his book is Fear Cancer No More. Something like that. But we were talking about the home environment, more specifically things like toothpaste and we got around to talking about carpets.

Yes. Like, carpets in your home and how toxic they can actually be. And it brought to mind also a book that I read probably a decade ago and it was one of the first times I had heard about how polluted our homes are. The indoor environment can be worse than the outdoor environment. And the name of that book and I don't—I'm so sorry I don't remember the author's name but the name of the book is My Sick Home you can probably Google it. Our Sick Home--something along those lines. It was one of the first books that really was talking about indoor toxins, so this question is a follow up to that.

"One of your guests mentioned that carpets are full of toxins. What toxins? And, will steam cleaning them help?"

So, we didn't get into the specific toxins in that show so I just did my own research here and it turns out that carpets are full of things called VOC's, volatile organic compounds, VOC's. Volatile simply means the compound can leave solution very easily. It can leave the surface it's on very easily, get into the air and of course once that happens, once it's in the air as a gas you breathe it in and your lungs are good at filtering things but if these compounds get into the actual air-sacs, that's just an easy entryway right into the bloodstream.

So, the lungs on one hand are really good at filtering certain things but once these volatile compounds, which they do easily get into those air-sacs, once that happens, these compounds do get into your system.

Quite easily actually. And what's concerning is there's different groups of VOC's and probably the most scary group are the ones that end in "ene". When you see a group of chemicals in anything, in this case carpet, and they all end in the letters "E" as in Edward, "N" as in Nancy, and "E" as in Edward, "ene", that's bad. Most of them are based on a very known carcinogen called benzene, b-e-n-z-e-n-e, benzene. And there's different types here. There's styrene, toluene they're all basically these benzene type carcinogens and that's exactly what I found is in carpet.

These are compounds that are anti-mold, anti-yeast, anti-microbial. In general, they are also compounds. Benzene is a ring structure. In chemistry it forms a ring. Organic benzene is an organic compound that forms a ring and that ring structure actually acts as a good barrier to things. So these benzene type VOC's also not only do they prevent molds and stuff from getting on, they can resist staining and that type of stuff which is why they use them.

It got me thinking, "Gosh, well, okay what about..." I just saw a commercial recently about stain-free carpet. You know, some big sale going on at some carpet store and it sounds great but then you've got to think. "Wow, they are probably coating that stuff in these benzene, styrene, those VOC's that end in "ene" type things and they are carcinogens and they are volatile. They do leave the carpet. They do get in the air. You do breathe them in and they are direct carcinogens." Not only that, these benzene type VOC's have been known to cause nerve problems, cardiovascular problems, but ultimately they are carcinogens.

And you have to be especially careful when it's new carpet. If you ever get new carpet or you move into an apartment with new carpet you probably do want to steam clean it as much as you can with a mask maybe and maybe even before you move in. Really clean it up as best you can. I know in some cases you can't really do much about it, especially if you're renting a place but wooden floors with wool rugs are much better for you. So, you know this whole idea "will steam cleaning help?" I really couldn't find much there. My thought is it might help a little bit. I mean steam cleaning is going to heat them up. Now, of course, you're heating the carpet up when you steam clean. What does that mean? Well, that means some of those volatile organic compounds can be released more so you have to be careful.

You've got to be sure you have a good vacuum system with that steam cleaner to really pick up the VOC's so they don't get into the air. You probably do want to use a mask or something when you are steam cleaning carpet, especially brand new carpet. And you don't want to store carpet in your home. As a matter of fact, that book I read about ten years ago, the guy who wrote it was one of your original house flippers. That's really big now but ten years ago that was just kind of getting going and he was one of the original guys.

He talked about a lot of these older homes that he was renovating in the Northeast having an extra bedroom just full of used carpet just rolled up and that's not good. So, carpets do have these VOC's. In particular the types of VOC's in carpet seem to be the ones that end in the "ene" the benzene, toluene, styrene-these are known carcinogens. Steam cleaning might help but wear a mask because you're going to heat those chemicals up and release them into the air. So, make sure you've got a good vacuum steam cleaning system.

Okay next question:

"Can you please explain why saturated fats may not be so bad after all?"

I think this comes from another segment I did, too. I love having follow up questions. I've had Dr. Steven Sinatra on and he was a co-author of a book called The Cholesterol Myth and we talked a lot about—the idea was in the 80's that saturated fat raised cholesterol levels and guess what? It does. Saturated fat does raise bad cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, but what we've now learned, though, is there are different types of LDL cholesterol. That's why it's important to, in my opinion, don't just rely on the standard cholesterol test that your doctor may do. I do know that your yearly exam that looks at total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides but the problem is there's different types of LDL.

There's different types of HDL that you're not teasing out in that basic workup. There's more advanced cholesterol testing. One is called a VAP test V-A-P and there are other ones out there but what those more advanced tests do, is they look at that LDL cholesterol and they tease out what type it is. There's LDL cholesterol that's very dense, very small and dense. That stuff filters through the vessel wall. That is what causes the arterial plaque. There are other types of LDL cholesterol that doesn't do that. It is more buoyant. It's larger and we kind of refer to it as fluffy. That type of larger LDL cholesterol does not get into the vessel very readily and it actually gets to the liver where it's processed. And what we now know, based on some really good research is that saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol but it's the big fluffy type, it's the more buoyant, large LDL molecule, not the small dense one.

So, saturated fat. If you eat a lot of saturated fat and you look at just the standard cholesterol test that your doctor does, yes, LDL cholesterol starts going up, our doctor gets worried, cuts out your saturated fat and you replace it with a bunch of sugar and things get worse. If you were to actually do an advanced cholesterol test you would know with the saturated fat diet, you're actually increasing the LDL that is more, if I can say, healthier. It's still LDL cholesterol. It still can be oxidized. It still can be a problem but saturated fat raises that type of LDL cholesterol that is not quite so bad. So a little saturated fat in your diet is okay.

This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD.

I'm Dr. Mike. Stay well.