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Acrylamide from Snacks Associated with Kidney, Other Cancers

May 13, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The chemical acrylamide has been linked to renal cancer, according to a recent study.  Acrylamide is a chemical that is commonly found in French fries, potato chips, and even bread and coffee and which has also caused cancer in laboratory studies.  Now, emerging research from the Netherlands suggests acrylamide may also pose a harm to humans.  Until recently, cigarette smoke and occupational exposures were considered the main sources of exposure to acrylamide; however, the chemical is also used in the manufacture of cosmetics, plastics, and even food packaging.

In 2002, researchers in Sweden reported that acrylamide is also found in some foods and especially in starchy foods that are either fried or baked.  And, University of Southern California professor and nutrition expert Roger Clemens, DrPH, says that even black olives and breakfast cereals contain levels of acrylamide.  "It is clear that our foods have contained this compound since man started cooking with fire," he says.

Clarification on whether dietary exposure to acrylamide poses a health risk was needed and in an effort to address this issue, researchers from the Maastricht University in the Netherlands examined data from a large Dutch study conducted on diet and cancer and that was initiated in 1986.  Nearly 21,000 participants between the ages of 55 and 70 completed a detailed food-frequency questionnaire that was developed to determine eating habits.  The answers from that questionnaire were combined with a separate database and used to estimate acrylamide intake.

The participants were then divided into five categories representing acrylamide consumption.  The study revealed that those who ate the highest amounts of the chemical had a 59% greater risk for kidney cancer than those participants who ate the least acrylamide, according to researcher Janneke G. Hogervorst.  The cancer risk appeared to be especially strong for smokers.  Acrylamide consumption did not appear to be associated with an increased risk for cancers of the bladder or prostate.

Researchers focused on acrylamide intake and cancers of the kidney, bladder, and prostate and found that in a 13-year follow-up, there were 339 cases of kidney cancer, 1,210 cases of bladder cancer, and 2,246 cases of prostate cancer.  Those involved in the study ate an average of about 22 micrograms of acrylamide daily.  This amount is slightly less than a  2.5-ounce serving of French fries which contains about 25 micrograms of acrylamide.

In findings reported last year using the same database and design, Hogervorst and colleagues found postmenopausal, nonsmoking women whose diets included the most acrylamide had significantly increased risk for ovarian and endometrial cancer over those women whose diets contained the least.  That study was published last December in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers andPrevention and the latest findings appear in the May issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  "In the future we hope to look at many more cancer types," Hogervorst says. "We also hope that other researchers will do similar studies to expand on our research."

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that 100% of Americans consume acrylamide.

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