Acrylamide in starchy food might not cause cancer

February 3, 2003 in Cancer Prevention, Food Safety, Nutrition Topics in the News

Acrylamide in starchy food might not cause cancer

Fried foods such as potato chips and French fries may contain a substance that can cause cancer in animals, but the levels do not appear high enough to increase the risk of the disease in humans, researchers said last week.

Swedish scientists sparked a worldwide food scare in April 2002 when they found high levels of acrylamide, a probable human carcinogen, in high-carbohydrate foods including crackers, certain cereals and cooked potatoes.

But new research conducted by scientists in the U.S. and in Sweden is the first to look at acrylamide in terms of human diet and cancer risk. The findings suggest that the chemical in food may not be as dangerous as people have been led to believe.

The researchers studied the diets of 987 patients with either cancer of the colon, bladder, rectum or kidney, as well as more than 500 healthy people, to determine whether levels of acrylamide could be a factor in the development of the disease.

They calculated participants' dietary acrylamide intake by asking them how often they ate a range of different foods, including items--such as fried potatoes, bread and biscuits--that have been found to have medium or high levels of acrylamide.

The researchers found no link between the compound in food and the risk of bladder or kidney cancer, and high amounts of acrylamide were associated with a reduced risk of bowel cancer. However, the scientists said the lower bowel-cancer risk could be due to other factors, such as the high fibre content in the foods.

Acrylamide can be carcinogenic to animals, but this study suggests that either the levels in food are too low to affect cancer risk, or that the body is able to deactivate the chemical in some way,.

Acrylamide is a colourless compound used in plastic manufacturing, in laboratories and in water purification. Scientists believe acrylamide is formed during the cooking process, when starchy foods like potatoes, rice and cereals are fried or baked at high temperatures.

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