New Study Finds No Acrylamide-Cancer Link in Humans

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Recent research from the Harvard School of Public Health and Sweden's Karolinska Institute found no link between consumption of acrylamide from foods and the occurrence of colon, bladder or kidney cancers. These results are in line with expectations of physicians and scientists associated with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) (see Acrylamide in Food: Is It a Real Threat to Public Health?).

The researchers, who reported their results in the British Journal of Cancer, performed what is known as a case-control study. They examined the dietary intake of acrylamide among 987 cancer patients, and compared it to that of 538 healthy people to see if they could find a link between the disease and this chemical. No such link was apparent the cancer patients had consumed no more acrylamide than had the healthy patients. In fact, higher levels of acrylamide in the diet were associated with lower, not higher, risk for colon cancer.

Acrylamide became a focus of international concern last spring when Swedish researchers reported finding unexpectedly high levels of the chemical in a number of carbohydrate-rich foods that had been cooked at high temperature (for example, French fries and potato chips). Because acrylamide is a known neurotoxin, and at very high doses an animal carcinogen, an uproar was raised by some groups about the possibility that acrylamide might cause cancer in humans when ingested in our food.

As ACSH pointed out in a review of the scientific literature, the presence of trace amounts of a substance in foods, even if that substance has been shown to cause cancer in animals in high-dose, long-term studies, does not necessarily mean that it is a risk to human health (see Acrylamide in Food: Is It a Real Threat to Public Health?; also see ACSH's list of the numerous but harmless chemicals in an ordinary holiday dinner, at ACSH HOLIDAY DINNER MENU 2003). "Consumers should remember the basic tenet of toxicology the dose makes the poison," noted ACSH president Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. "There are traces of many different chemicals in our foods that, at very high levels, cause cancer in animals this doesn't mean that at trace levels they would be a threat to humans. Thus far, it seems that acrylamide is likely to be another example of such a chemical," she continued.

Dr. Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D., ACSH's director of nutrition, added: "This new report reinforces our advice to the American public: a well-rounded diet, replete with fruits and vegetables, with occasional snack food if desired, is the best approach to sound nutrition. We should try to avoid being unduly alarmed by these periodic food scares."