What is Acrylamide? 12 Facts You Have to Know

French fries are a source of acryalmide

Toxic substances like high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, and trans fats have polluted our food supply for over a century. But, at least the ingredient label will tell you when they’re present. This isn’t always the case. You need to be aware of acrylamide, a neurotoxin and carcinogen that can form when carbohydrates are fried. As a cooking byproduct, it’s not on the ingredients list. But, it’s there and it’s bad stuff. The negative health implications of consuming this chemical have even prompted the World Health Organization to issue warnings. [1] Here are the top 12 facts you need to know about acrylamide to protect your health.

1. What is Acrylamide?

Although acrylamide is, largely, a byproduct of frying carbohydrates, and that’s how most people are exposed, it also has industrial uses. It’s used for the production of polymers, paper, plastics, caulking, food packaging, and adhesives. [2]

2. The Connection to Fried Foods

In food, acrylamide forms through what’s known as the Maillard reaction — a chemical reaction between sugars and amino acids. Sugars and starches, such as potatoes, can form acrylamides when cooked at 248 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and fats are oxidized. [3] Although fried foods are the most likely culprit, baked and roasted foods also have the potential for forming acrylamides, especially if they’re heavy on the carbohydrates.

3. Many Foods Contain Acrylamide

Acrylamide is found in potato chips, French fries, and even coffee. French fries contain some of the highest levels of acrylamide and the common practice of extending the cooking time to achieve a crispier fry can produce 10x as much acrylamide. [4] Other sources include cereal-based snacks, rye bread, donuts, and biscuits. Casseroles with a lot of starch also have high levels of acrylamide. [5] [6]

4. Food Isn’t the Only Source of Exposure

Some cosmetic products contain acrylamide in the form of polyacrylamide, which breaks down into acrylamide after being absorbed into the skin. [7] High blood levels of acrylamide have been found in people who work in cosmetic factories. [8]

5. Smoking Doesn’t Help the Situation

Research suggests that the entire US population suffers from some form of acrylamide exposure; it’s difficult to get away from. But, just as it always does, tobacco can make health problems even worse. Those who smoke tobacco consistently have the highest levels of acrylamide in their blood. [9]

6. Infants and Young Children are Especially at Risk

Prompted by baby food contamination, a Polish study analyzed the effect of acrylamide exposure in infants aged 6-12 months. The infants with the highest levels of acrylamide in their blood had levels a few dozen times higher than normal. [10] One study of 110 American children found that acrylamide levels were 50% higher than adult subjects. [11] One of the most startling conclusions? French fry consumption was responsible for the most significant increases. [12]

7. Exactly How Dangerous is Acrylamide Exposure?

Health and environmental authorities, including the EPA, warn that acrylamide is a dangerous neurotoxin that can damage the nervous system. [13] [14] A number of studies have also explored its carcinogenic effects and animal studies suggest that acrylamide can contribute to tumor development in the thyroid, testes, mammary glands, lungs, and brain. Lab studies have confirmed that acrylamide kills brain cells. [15] Bottom line? It’s toxic stuff.

8. Negatively Affects Fetal Development

A survey taken between 2006-2010 revealed that acrylamide consumption correlated with smaller head circumferences and lower birth weights in recently born infants. [16] Another study of 50,651 women in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study confirmed a reduction of fetal growth following acrylamide exposure. [17]

9. Upsets Blood Sugar

Recent research confirms the relationship between acrylamide levels and insulin levels — not a good one either. Increased levels of acrylamide are associated with a decrease in serum insulin — this makes it very difficult to control blood sugar! [18] For people who already have trouble controlling their blood sugar, such as diabetics, the health implications can be disastrous.

10. Negatively Affects the Immune System

Trying to be healthy? Avoid acrylamide. Regular exposure has been linked to autoimmune diseases. One study found that individuals whose work regularly exposed them to acrylamide had an increased risk for developing lupus, scleroderma, and Sjögren’s syndrome. [19]

11. Cooking Methods Can Reduce Exposure

Since fried foods are the primary means most folks are exposed to acrylamide, avoiding fried and starchy foods, like French fries and donuts, can be one of the best steps toward reducing acrylamide intake. Instead, boil or steam your food to better avoid this dangerous chemical. [20] It may be a drastic change, but consider adopting a raw vegan diet, the health benefits are incredible!

12. Diet Can Limit Damage

Certain herbs and spices may provide a level of defense against acrylamide. Curcumin, an active molecule in turmeric, was tested for its impact on liver cells damaged by acrylamides. It reportedly reduced DNA damage by a significant factor, probably due to its antioxidant properties. [21]] While this study focused specifically on curcumin, other antioxidant-rich foods may provide similar protection.

A Final Thought

Fried and processed foods are best avoided for many reasons, not just acrylamide. In their own right, most are devoid of nutrition and little more than a food pellet with too much sugar and starch that lead to chronic disease.

What hidden sources of acrylamide are you aware of? What steps have you taken to reduce your own exposure? Please leave a comment and share with us!

-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM

References:

  1. World Health Organization. Evaluation of certain contaminants in food. World Health Organ Tech Rep Ser. 2011;(959):1-105
  2. National Cancer Institute. Acrylamide in Food and Cacner Risk National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet.
  3. Lineback DR, Coughlin JR, Stadler RH. Acrylamide in foods: a review of the science and future considerations. Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2012;3:15-35. doi: 10.1146/annurev-food-022811-101114. Epub 2011 Nov 28.
  4. Sanny M, Luning PA, Jinap S, Bakker EJ, van Boekel MA. Effect of frying instructions for food handlers on acrylamide concentration in French fries: an explorative study. J Food Prot. 2013 Mar;76(3):462-72. doi: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-12-049.
  5. Hirvonen T, Jestoi M, Tapanainen H, Valsta L, Virtanen SM, Sinkko H, Kronberg-Kippilä C, Kontto J, Virtamo J, Simell O, Peltonen K. Dietary acrylamide exposure among Finnish adults and children: the potential effect of reduction measures. Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess. 2011 Nov;28(11):1483-91. doi: 10.1080/19440049.2011.593559. Epub 2011 Jul 18.
  6. Cheng WC, Sun de C, Chou SS, Yeh AI. Acrylamide content distribution and possible alternative ingredients for snack foods. J Food Prot. 2012 Dec;75(12):2158-62.
  7. Shen M, Sun Z, Shi J, Hu M, Hu J, Liu Y. Prohibited substances in cosmetics: prospect of the toxicity of acrylamide. Zhong Nan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2012 Apr;37(4):424-30. doi: 10.3969/j.issn.1672-7347.2012.04.019.
  8. Moorman WJ, Reutman SS, Shaw PB, Blade LM, Marlow D, Vesper H, Clark JC, Schrader SM. Occupational exposure to acrylamide in closed system production plants: air levels and biomonitoring. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2012;75(2):100-11. doi: 10.1080/15287394.2011.615109.
  9. Vesper HW, Caudill SP, Osterloh JD, Meyers T, Scott D, Myers GL. Exposure of the U.S. population to acrylamide in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2004. Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Feb;118(2):278-83. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901021.
  10. Mojska H, Gielecinska I, Stos K. Determination of acrylamide level in commercial baby foods and an assessment of infant dietary exposure. Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Aug;50(8):2722-8. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.05.023. Epub 2012 May 19.
  11. Heudorf U, Hartmann E, Angerer J. Acrylamide in children–exposure assessment via urinary acrylamide metabolites as biomarkers. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2009 Mar;212(2):135-41. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2008.04.006. Epub 2008 Jun 13.
  12. United States Environmental Protection AgencyAcrylamide: Hazard Summary. EPA. April 1992, revised January 2000.
  13. Pingot D, Pyrzanowski K, Micha?owicz J, Bukowska B. Toxicity of acrylamide and its metabolite – glicydamide. Med Pr. 2013;64(2):259-71.
  14. Das AB, Srivastav PP. Acrylamide in snack foods.Toxicol Mech Methods. 2012 Apr;22(3):163-9. doi: 10.3109/15376516.2011.623329. Epub 2011 Oct 24.
  15. Chen JH, Yang CH, Wang YS, Lee JG, Cheng CH, Chou CC. Acrylamide-induced mitochondria collapse and apoptosis in human astrocytoma cells. Food Chem Toxicol. 2013 Jan;51:446-52. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.10.025. Epub 2012 Nov 2.
  16. Pedersen M, von Stedingk H, Botsivali M, Agramunt S, Alexander J, Brunborg G, Chatzi L, Fleming S, Fthenou E, Granum B, Gutzkow KB, Hardie LJ, Knudsen LE, Kyrtopoulos SA, Mendez MA, Merlo DF, Nielsen JK, Rydberg P, Segerbäck D, Sunyer J, Wright J, Törnqvist M, Kleinjans JC, Kogevinas M; NewGeneris Consortium. Birth weight, head circumference, and prenatal exposure to acrylamide from maternal diet: the European prospective mother-child study (NewGeneris). Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Dec;120(12):1739-45. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1205327. Epub 2012 Sep 24.
  17. Duarte-Salles T, von Stedingk H, Granum B, Gützkow KB, Rydberg P, Törnqvist M, Mendez MA, Brunborg G, Brantsæter AL, Meltzer HM, Alexander J, Haugen M. Dietary acrylamide intake during pregnancy and fetal growth-results from the Norwegian mother and child cohort study (MoBa). Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Mar;121(3):374-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1205396. Epub 2012 Nov 29.
  18. Lin CY, Lin YC, Kuo HK, Hwang JJ, Lin JL, Chen PC, Lin LY.
    Association among acrylamide, blood insulin, and insulin resistance in adults.
    Diabetes Care. 2009 Dec;32(12):2206-11. doi: 10.2337/dc09-0309. Epub 2009 Sep 3.
  19. Rothschild B. Acrylamine-induced autoimmune phenomena. Clin Rheumatol. 2010 Sep;29(9):999-1005. doi: 10.1007/s10067-010-1513-4. Epub 2010 Jun 11.
  20. Bravo KS, Ramírez R, Durst R, Escobedo-Avellaneda ZJ, Welti-Chanes J, Sanz PD, Torres JA.
    Formation risk of toxic and other unwanted compounds in pressure-assisted thermally processed foods.
    J Food Sci. 2012 Jan;77(1):R1-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2011.02451.x. Epub 2011 Nov 10.
  21. Cao J, Jiang L, Geng C, Yao X. Preventive effects of curcumin on acrylamide-induced DNA damage in HepG2 cells. Wei Sheng Yan Jiu. 2009 Jul;38(4):392-5.

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