Rambling over Coffee: Today's topic is pondering Acrylamide and Cancer in Humans

This is one of those posts where I just sip my coffee and chit-chat about what's on my mind. 

In 2002 my Mom was diagnosed with cancer and started with the surgeries, the chemo and rounds of radiation.  It was soon after this, I started to research 'cancer' more in depth.  That search led me down many different paths.  One of those paths was around that time Swedish scientists had found acrylamide in starchy foods cooked at high temperatures and there were some warnings that we needed to study this a little more.  The levels of acrylamide in things like Cheerios, french fries, potato chips and corn chips, etc. were high.  Extremely high.  And the initial studies done on mice and rats showed the levels to be cancer causing.  The question was;  'What effect do they have on humans?'

Since that was about 15 years ago, you would think a lot of testing had been done by now, right?


Very little has actually been done. That is how this post came to be.

This morning I was wondering what the latest studies and updates on acrylamide and cancer rates in humans were.  I did a little bit of quick research only to find no one is really studying this... a handful of tests or studies here and there but they have been based on the same studies someone else has already done.  As a matter of fact, I found the same tiny mouse/rat study quoted over and over.  

From:  cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/acrylamide-fact-sheet

Is there acrylamide in food? 

Researchers in Europe and the United States have found acrylamide in certain foods that were heated to a temperature above 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit), but not in foods prepared below this temperature (1). Potato chips and French fries were found to contain higher levels of acrylamide compared with other foods (2). The World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that the levels of acrylamide in foods pose a “major concern” and that more research is needed to determine the risk of dietary acrylamide exposure (2).

Does acrylamide increase the risk of cancer?

Studies in rodent models have found that acrylamide exposure poses a risk for several types of cancer (11, 12, 13). However, the evidence from human studies is still incomplete. The National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer consider acrylamide to be a “probable human carcinogen,” based on studies in laboratory animals given acrylamide in drinking water. However, toxicology studies have shown differences in acrylamide absorption rates between humans and rodents (14).

From: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15668103

Acrylamide is carcinogenic to experimental mice and rats, causing tumors at multiple organ sites in both species when given in drinking water or by other means. In mice, acrylamide increases the incidence of alveologenic lung tumors and initiates skin tumors after dermal exposures. In two bioassays in rats, acrylamide administered in drinking water consistently induced peritesticular mesotheliomas, thyroid follicular cell tumors, and mammary gland tumors, as well as primary brain tumors when all such tumors were included in data analysis. In one of the rat bioassays, increased numbers of adrenal pheochromocytomas, adenomas of pituitary and clitoral glands, papillomas of the oral cavity, and adenocarcinomas of the uterus also occurred. In both humans and experimental animals, a significant fraction of ingested acrylamide is converted metabolically to the chemically reactive and genotoxic epoxide, glycidamide, which is likely to play an important role in the carcinogenicity of acrylamide. No studies on the carcinogenicity of glycidamide have been published, but bioassays of this compound are in progress


My comments interjected here...

This next 'study' was actually made me chuckle as I started to read through it.  As I read about this 'study' I find it wasn't actually a controlled study at all.  They simply were paid to read through whatever written articles, studies or cases they could find and publish their findings.  So, let's go there for a minute first;


A total of 586 publications were identified in the search (supplemental Appendix 1, available at Annals of Oncology online). The selection of publications relevant for our review is illustrated in supplemental Appendix Figure 1 (available at Annals of Oncology online). By examining the title, 407 publications, mainly experimental studies using acrylamide-based gels, were excluded (a1–a407); the abstract of the remaining 179 publications was looked in detail. Forty-eight publications were excluded as nonrelevant (reviews, experimental and clinical studies, etc.) (a408–a455), while the remaining 131 publications were abstracted and reviewed in detail. Among them, 106 did not report original epidemiological results on acrylamide and cancer and were no longer considered (a456–a561), whereas the remaining 25 publications were retained for the review. The review of the reference lists of these publications resulted in the identification of one additional report. Among these, 19 publications reported results on dietary intake of acrylamide [6–24], 2 publications reported results on biomarkers of exposure [22, 25] and 6 publications reported results on occupational exposure [26–31].

"Among these, 19 publications reported results on dietary intake of acrylamide [6–24], 2 publications reported results on biomarkers of exposure [22, 25] and 6 publications reported results on occupational exposure..."

So this often quoted study used a total of 19 publications two people sat and read through.
19 publications.
That was their study.
So findings are going to be uh... interesting to say the least as I'm not sure that you can really draw legit conclusions from a small study of reading 19 publications but wait, it gets better... look who funded the study....

"The project was supported partially by an unrestricted grant from Fritolay to the International Prevention Research Institute and by the International Prevention Research Institute's internal resources."


My comments in here really quick on this next part....

Note a total of 15 epidemiologic studies.  Fifteen.  Since 2002.  That's it.


Conjectured associations between dietary acrylamide intake and cancer have been evaluated in more than 15 epidemiologic studies examining almost every major cancer site.


So... does the US regulate this at all?
No.  I'm not really sure they should... I'm not for so much government 'regulations' but I do like to be informed so I can make my own choices in the foods I put into my body and the bodies of my loved ones - especially my kids and husband.  I would like to KNOW what levels are in which foods.  



In the United States, the FDA regulates the amount of residual acrylamide in a variety of materials that come in contact with food, but there are currently no regulations on the presence of acrylamide in food itself. 

 In 2016, the FDA issued guidance to help the food industry reduce the amount of acrylamide in certain foods, but these are recommendations, not regulations.

The EPA regulates acrylamide in drinking water. The EPA has set an acceptable level of acrylamide exposure, which is low enough to account for any uncertainty in the data relating acrylamide to cancer and other health effects.
In the workplace, exposure to acrylamide is regulated by the EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Can I lower my exposure to acrylamide?


For most people, the major potential sources of acrylamide exposure are in certain foods and in cigarette smoke. It’s not yet clear if the levels of acrylamide in foods raise cancer risk, but for people who are concerned, there are some things you can do to lower your exposure.

Certain foods are more likely to contain acrylamide than others. These include potato products (especially French fries and potato chips), coffee, and foods made from grains (such as breakfast cereals, cookies, and toast). These foods are often part of a regular diet. But if you want to lower your acrylamide intake, reducing your intake of these foods is one way to do so.
The FDA’s advice on acrylamide is to adopt a healthy eating plan, consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, that:
  • Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
  • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
This type of diet is likely to have health benefits beyond lowering acrylamide levels.

Acrylamide has been detected in both home-cooked and in packaged or processed foods. Acrylamide levels in foods can vary widely depending on the manufacturer, the cooking time, and the method and temperature of the cooking process. Since acrylamide is formed from natural chemicals in food during cooking, acrylamide levels in cooked organic foods are likely to be similar to levels in cooked non-organic foods.

When cooking at home, some methods may lower the acrylamide levels produced in certain foods.

For potatoes, frying causes the highest acrylamide formation. Roasting potato pieces causes less acrylamide formation, followed by baking whole potatoes. Boiling potatoes and microwaving whole potatoes with skin on does not create acrylamide.

Soaking raw potato slices in water for 15 to 30 minutes before frying or roasting helps reduce acrylamide formation during cooking. (Soaked potatoes should be drained and blotted dry before cooking to prevent splattering or fires.)

Storing potatoes in the refrigerator can result in increased acrylamide during cooking. Therefore, store potatoes outside the refrigerator, preferably in a dark, cool place, such as a closet or a pantry, to prevent sprouting.

Generally, acrylamide levels rise when cooking is done for longer periods or at higher temperatures. Cooking cut potato products, such as frozen French fries or potato slices, to a golden yellow color rather than a brown color helps reduce acrylamide formation. Brown areas tend to have more acrylamide.

Toasting bread to a light brown color, rather than a dark brown color, lowers the amount of acrylamide. Very brown areas contain the most acrylamide.

Acrylamide forms in coffee when coffee beans are roasted, not when coffee is brewed at home or in a restaurant. So far, scientists have not found good ways to reduce acrylamide formation in coffee.

Not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke are other ways to potentially reduce your exposure to acrylamide, as well as to many other potentially harmful chemicals.


  Ending thoughts?  Well, I as I finish the last of my now cold coffee and get ready to go brew a new cup (which incidentally apparently has acrylamide in it since it's made by roasting coffee beans at a high temperature... the only thing really in my mind is that it sounds to me like perhaps we should be doing some more studies on this.  Any foods that have the potential to cause cancer in humans is worth looking into although I'd like to see it funded by an industry that does not have a vested interested in the final documentation to support their food product sales....  But then again, in this day and age it's very difficult to find a case study that doesn't have the funders in bed with the researchers.  So...  (shrugging my shoulders) I guess it may be another 30 years before we really know anything.

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