In the first study to assess the role of high levels of dietary acrylamide (found in fried and certain other cooked foods) and risk of cancer in humans, researchers from the School of Public Health and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found no association between the consumption of foods high in acrylamide and increased risk of three forms of cancer. The study results appear in the Jan. 28 issue of the British Journal of Cancer.
Animal and laboratory studies in the past have indicated that acrylamide, a potentially carcinogenic substance, is found in elevated levels in certain foods, such as potato chips, french fries, cereals, and biscuits among others. Acrylamide appears to form as a result of a reaction between specific amino acids and sugars found in foods when heated to high temperatures. But the researchers found that dietary levels of acrylamide are not sufficient to increase the risk of bladder, large bowel, or kidney cancer in humans.
The researchers assessed the diets of 987 cancer patients and 538 healthy individuals, over a five-year span. Each participant filled out a detailed food-frequency questionnaire listing a total of 188 types of foods containing medium to high levels of acrylamide.
To ascertain the level of acrylamide in each participant’s diet, the researchers referred to the Swedish National Food Administration’s 2002 report, which lists concentrations in a wide range of popular foods. Among the study population, the researchers consistently found a lack of excess risk among those who regularly consumed foods with high levels of acrylamide (300-1,200 micrograms per kilogram) or moderate levels (30-299 micrograms per kilogram). In addition, individuals with the highest total acrylamide intake were at no greater risk of cancer than those with lower intake.
Lorelei Mucci, lead author of the study and a researcher in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health said, “It’s very reassuring to know that when we looked in detail at the effects of consuming foods containing high levels of acrylamide we found no increased risk for three major cancers. The findings don’t condone eating junk food, however.” She added, “Acrylamide does increase the risk of certain neurological conditions and more research needs to be done in this area. Overall, the results of this study provide some evidence that it looks as though there’s much less to worry about than was initially thought.”