Acrylamide is produced when carbohydrate-rich foods are cooked at high temperatures. Foods like french fries, potato chips, cakes, and even coffee contain high levels of acrylamide. It has been classified as a “probable” carcinogen based on animal studies where cancer resulted from very high doses. However, human studies have not always produced clear answers.
Epidemiologists in The Netherlands had people fill out food questionnaires based on common Dutch foods that contained acrylamide. Thirteen years later, they found no increase in the number of colorectal or other gastrointestinal cancer in those people who ate foods with high amounts of acrylamide.
However, there appeared to be a connection with the amount of acrylamide-rich foods eaten in some subgroups with colorectal cancer, including the obese, the less physically active, and older people.
Janneke G. F. Hogervorst, an epidemiologist at Maastricht University in The Netherlands, wrote,
Overall, acrylamide intake was not associated with colorectal, gastric, pancreatic, and esophageal cancer risk, but some subgroups deserve further attention.
The most common sources of acrylamide in the Dutch diet were spiced cake and coffee.
Coffee presents almost an ideal situation for acrylamide. Dr. Hogervorst explained,
When coffee beans are roasted, temperatures [more than 120 degrees Celsius] necessary for the acrylamide-forming chemical reaction are reached. Then, when filtered coffee is prepared from the beans, acrylamide dissolves in the water and passes through the filter into the filtered coffee.
Despite the good news about acrylamide and colorectal cancer, people shouldn’t feel safe eating foods that are rich in the chemical. Other than coffee, which has consistently shown no connection with cancer, most foods that contain acrylamide also are high in fat and calories and contribute to obesity. And obesity does increase colorectal cancer risk.
In an interview with HealthDay, Dr. Michael Thun, vice-president of epidemiology and surveillance research at the American Cancer Society, warned,
People should limit consumption of foods which are important sources of acrylamide for general health reasons. They tend to be low in nutrition, high in fat and high in calories.
Other studies have potentially linked acrylamide to uterine, ovarian, and kidney cancers, but have found no association with breast, bladder, or prostate cancer.
SOURCE: Hogervorst et al., The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 138, Issue 12, November 2008.