Two preliminary studies suggest that eating foods containing acrylamide, recently discovered to be common in fried foods rich in carbohydrates, does not increase the risk for several types of cancer, a scientist said Monday.
The findings should calm fears brought on two years ago when Swedish scientists announced that many foods contained elevated levels of the chemical. Acrylamide, used in making grout and treating wastewater, had not been detected in food previously.
The initial results from two new Swedish studies showed no association between intake of acrylamide, which is listed as a probable carcinogen, and higher rates of cancer of the colon, rectum and breast.
Though unpublished, the results are consistent with two previously published studies, also conducted in Sweden, that looked at cancers of the bladder, kidney, colon and rectum, a co-author of the studies said.
“The amount of acrylamide generally consumed in the Swedish diet doesn’t appear to be associated with a higher cancer risk,” said Lorelei Mucci, of Harvard University’s School of Public Health. Details were presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Mucci cautioned that the results were preliminary and further research was needed, including studies that examine other populations, as well as other types of cancer.
Exposure to high doses of acrylamide is known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. But Richard LoPachin of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine said further animal studies that look at long-term exposure to lower levels of the chemical are needed before extrapolating those results to humans.
Although acrylamide is a known human neurotoxin at high doses, whether it can cause cancer in people who ingest far lower doses remains unclear.
Fried foods pose other risks
The chemical is found naturally in many foods. Those high in starch, especially potatoes, form elevated levels when fried, baked or roasted at high temperatures. A pilot study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that eating a 3-ounce portion of potato chips every day for a week increased one’s exposure to acrylamide in ways that could be directly detected in blood samples, said Hubert Vesper, a scientist for the agency.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week published data on acrylamide levels in 750 foods, including prunes and olives. Acrylamide also is present in cigarette smoke.
Scientists stressed that other health risks associated with eating fried foods outweighed any additional cancer risk that acrylamide might confer.
“The risk is so much greater of eating fried, fatty foods because of the obesity and heart disease problem,” said Donald Mottram, a food chemist at the University of Reading.