Acrylamide is a primarily industrial chemical that has been used in many industrial processes, such as the production of plastics, dyes, and paper. It is additionally utilized in the treatment of wastewater, sewage, and the treatment of drinking water as well. It is also found in many consumer products, such as adhesives, food packaging, and caulking.
In the US acrylamide is classified as a Group 2A carcinogen and as an extremely hazardous substance. Because of its toxic nature, businesses that have any use of it are subject to strict reporting requirements.
In 2002 it was discovered in extremely high concentrations in potato chips and French fries.
The concentrations were so high that these two types of food would be banned for children in any normal circumstances. It was also discovered, just not at the same extreme level, but still in the toxic range in all other starchy foods that had been heated higher than 120 °C (248 °F).
Such as bread for example.
There was no detectable level in foods that were not heated or that were boiled. What happened was that the calculated level of average acrylamide intake was not at the level that posed a risk for negative effects on the nervous system and fertility and from this, it was concluded that acrylamide levels in food were safe regarding the nervous system. However, the synergistic effect that it might have with other environmental toxins were not calculated, or any studies had been done on that subject either. Only concerns were raised on acrylamide human carcinogenicity based on known carcinogenicity in laboratory animals. Rodent studies had associated acrylamide exposure with risk for several types of cancer.
Evidence from human studies linked it to kidney cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian, and prostate cancer.
So what does the heating do to produce acrylamide? There is an amino acid (a building block of proteins) named asparagine. It is found in any type of protein including vegetable proteins as well. Some varieties of potatoes have a higher amount of it than any other known food products.
When high temperatures start to heat asparagine in the presence of certain starches or sugars, there is a chemical reaction that turns asparagine into acrylamide. To lower the exposure if you care about doing so, you can use low-temperature cooking methods like boiling and microwaving. High-temperature cooking methods, such as baking, frying, or broiling, will produce acrylamide depending on the concentrations of the amino acid itself, and concentration of starches, and the temperature and duration of cooking.
Longer cooking times increase acrylamide production when the cooking temperature is above 120 degrees Celsius.
No animals in nature do things to food as frying. It is an unnatural process, and because it is a new invention concerning evolution, we do not have adequate deface against its toxicity. Once ingested, acrylamide is processed through the cytochrome P450 enzyme system and converted into glycidamide, and detoxified. Even though our metabolic pathways can help us to detoxify it by some measure, nonetheless, we can still burden our liver detox capability to the level that it will not be able to do its job in time.
Eating many chips for example especially if you are a young child can overstress these pathways of detoxification and put you at health risk from excess exposure to this substance. It is possible that our hominin ancestors had been exposed to this chemical because we do have cytochrome P450 enzyme system and Homo erectus may have been roasting some of the starch-rich vegetables, but it is unlikely that they have been exposed to it in the excessive levels as we are today.
Frying destroys the molecular consistency of many molecules that are in the food. The problem arises when amino acids that are building blocks of our own proteins and cells get damaged. If the damage is partial our bodies will integrate these damaged amino acids into our cells not realizing that they are actually damaged. This will, in consequence, have a mutagenic and cancerogenic effect. Frying and baking also destroy oils that are not thermostable (omega 3 6 9) forcing them to oxidase and to go rancid and cancerogenic too. Some studies show a significant correlation between fried food and some types of cancer. If you have cancer, it would be logical to avoid any food processing except boiling. The list of toxic and cancer-promoting chemicals that can be created in high temperatures is extensive.
If you want to avoid acrylamide then no toasted grains, no potato chips, no French fries, no toasted wheat cereals, no cookies and crackers, no roasted grain-based coffee substitutes, no roasted cocoa beans (and chocolate, Nutella, and other cocoa made stuff). Some canned black pitted olives can also fall into this higher-risk category regarding acrylamide exposure.
Tolerable instances are set to 2,6 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. For a 70kg human, it is 182 micrograms. For children, it is much less than that. And I will argue that the limit is set high deliberately. Setting this limit lower will mean mandatory legal recall of a wide variety of food items we have in our stores and restaurants. McDonald’s large fries have 82 micrograms. Even at the current allowed level, it will be required for example to legally restrict the selling of McDonald’s large fries to children under 35 kg. If you want to decrease your exposure to dietary acrylamide, you will need to restrict your intake of the above foods.
However, again we are forgetting something.
Any food that is fried or baked will have a similar reaction. Not just a starchy one. If we eat animal products, the same process will happen just other chemicals will get formed. It is an unnatural activity. I already mention the harmane and essential tremor connection. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed when any animal tissue not just muscle meats, no matter from what species, is prepared using high-temperature cooking. Grilling directly over an open flame or pan-frying results in the creation of 17 different heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs and PAHs are proven human carcinogens among other things. Heterocyclic describes just the shape but they are still amino acids with damaged molecular structure caused by the process of heating and the body does not fully recognize them as damaged. In studies in rodents, feeding them with HCAs resulted in the development of cancers in a couple of different organs including prostate, breast, and colon.
In the lifetime of exposure to all of the other toxins and mutagens in an environment adding more is not a good idea. Thousands of different toxins that our liver has to detoxify might not be cancerogenic, but the load itself is what in our new environment is problematic. In the clean nature of our past where we evolved in pristine conditions without pollution, our bodies still had to deal with some of the naturally occurring toxins, but we were not overloaded with other chemicals that we are loaded with now. Therefore, in our new habitat, we have to think to lower the exposure of every toxin we can because we could not lower them all. However, what we can evade we should, and even toxins that are not deadly should be avoided to lower our overload. The overloaded liver will let some of the more dangerous toxins to accumulate and to do damage to our cells because it has too much work to deal with, sort of speaking. Going low on the food chain, eating organic, avoiding preservatives, avoiding too much frying and baking, avoiding natural toxins, and drinking clean water is just the start.
Passages selected from a book: “Go Vegan? Review of Science: Part 1” [Milos Pokimica]
- Acrylamide in Foods: A Review of the Science and Future Considerations doi: 10.1146/annurev-food-022811-101114.
- Update on acrylamide levels in food from monitoring years 2007 to 2010 https://doi.org/10.2903/j.efsa.2012.2938
- A Statistical Regression Model for the Estimation of Acrylamide Concentrations in French Fries for Excess Lifetime Cancer Risk Assessment doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.07.010.
- Review of Epidemiologic Studies of Dietary Acrylamide Intake and the Risk of Cancer doi: 10.1097/CEJ.0b013e3283529b64.
- Consumption of Deep-Fried Foods and Risk of Prostate Cancer doi: 10.1002/pros.22643
- Dietary Acrylamide Intake and the Risk of Renal Cell, Bladder, and Prostate Cancer doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1428