Acrylamide, a synthetic chemical widely used as a water treatment agent and in the manufacture of adhesives, dyes and fabrics, has recently been shown to occur naturally in an increasing number of foods ranging from French fries to coffee.
Some studies have linked high levels of acrylamide to cancer in animals and neurological damage in humans. Despite uncertainties over acrylamide's actual health effects at the levels found in food, there is heightened public awareness about this compound.
The potential health effects of acrylamide and ways to reduce its content in foods will be explored Aug. 21-23 in a three-day symposium, "Chemistry and Toxicology of Acrylamide," during the 234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.
The following are brief summaries of selected papers.
Dietary acrylamide may play a role in Alzheimer's
Scientists have known for years that acrylamide is capable of causing nerve damage in humans, including muscle weakness and impaired muscle coordination, particularly from industrial exposure to large levels of the chemical. Now, new laboratory studies suggest that chronic dietary exposure to the chemical is capable of damaging nerve cells in the brain and could potentially play a role in the development of neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer's, according to Richard LoPachin, Jr., Ph.D., a neurotoxicologist with Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He notes that acrylamide is structurally similar to acrolein, a chemical found in increased levels in brains of patients with Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases. Studies in humans are warranted, the researcher says.
Acrylamide found in dried fruits
Dried fruits, which are rich in fiber and antioxidants, have long been promoted as healthful alternatives to fresh fruits. Now, Thomas Amrein and his associates at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have found acrylamide in dried fruits, a surprising finding considering that these products are dried at relatively mild temperatures instead of the high temperatures, through baking and frying, that usually produce the chemical. The study suggests that acrylamide is capable of being formed under relatively mild conditions through reactions that are not fully understood, the researchers say. Of the different dried fruits tested, the highest concentrations of the chemical were found in dried pears and prunes, they say.
Fat found to be significant source of acrylamide in food
Studies have shown that carbohydrates and amino acids, particularly the non-essential amino acid asparagine, are the main chemicals in food that are responsible for acrylamide formation. Now, a new study by researchers in Spain indicates for the first time that dietary fats make a significant contribution to the formation of acrylamide. The researchers found that high fat levels in roasted almonds may account for as much as half of the acrylamide found in this food and likely accounts for high levels found in other high fat foods, according to study leader Francisco J. Hidalgo, Ph.D., of the Instituto de la Grasa in Seville. Although the researchers say they have not yet demonstrated that reducing fat content in foods actually reduces acrylamide, the study provides a new target to consider in efforts to reduce acrylamide formation.
Farming techniques, biotechnology may help lower acrylamide
Researchers in England are experimenting with novel agricultural practices and biotechnology in an effort to help reduce acrylamide levels in food crops. Nigel Halford, of Rothamsted Research, in collaboration with the University of Reading, says that increasing soil sulfur levels in wheat crops and reducing nitrogen availability in crops can decrease levels of asparagine, an acrylamide precursor. The researchers have also produced a new variety of potato through genetic modification that contains lower sugar levels than conventional potatoes and are targeting plant genes responsible for controlling asparagine levels in an effort to reduce acrylamide levels in food crops.
Acrylamide not linked to breast cancer in U.S. women
Foods that contain acrylamide are unlikely to cause breast cancer, according to preliminary results of a new study involving 100,000 U.S. women followed over a 20 year period. The study is the largest epidemiological study to date exploring the possible link between acrylamide and cancer in humans. Led by Lorelei Mucci, ScD, an epidemiologist at Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston, the study found that the incidence of breast cancer among women whose acrylamide consumption was considered high was roughly equal to the incidence among those whose acrylamide consumption was low. For further information see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070821090501.htm
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