Gabe Mirkin, M.D.
Research in four countries is suggesting that French fries and
potato chips may be a leading cause of cancer in the Western
world. Scientists at the meeting of the World Health Organization
and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization are
very concerned about the very high levels of acrylamide in the
food supply. Acrylamide is a chemical used in the manufacture of
plastics. It was first discovered to be present in certain foods
cooked at high temperatures as the result of work announced in
Sweden in April 2002.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Food
and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have concluded that acrylamide
causes cancer in laboratory animals, but there are no studies of
the relationship between acrylamide and cancer in humans. However,
solid research shows that acrylamide can cause nerve damage in
humans, such as loss of feeling, loss muscle control and tingling.
The Swedish research and subsequent studies in Norway,
Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, have
found that acrylamide levels in certain starch-based foods,
such as potato chips, french fries, cookies, cereals and bread,
were well above the level given in the World Health
Organization's Guideline Values for Drinking Water Quality. Potato
chips contain 500 times the maximum allowable amounts of
acrylamide, and French fries sold in fast food chains contain
more than 100 times the maximal allowable amounts. Tortilla chips,
breakfast cereals, breads, cookies, crackers, and other bakery
products contain smaller but significant amounts of acrylamide.
Acrylamide belongs to a class of chemicals that form advanced
glycation end products, also known by their first letters as AGEs.
They are a group of molecules that are formed when sugar attaches
on protein when starchy foods such as potatoes and grains are
cooked in the absence of water at very high temperatures. They do
not form when food is cooked in water, and the higher the cooking
temperature, the more acrylamide is formed.
Diabetics form advanced glycation products in their bodies because
high blood sugar levels cause sugar to stick on the protein in cell
membranes to form AGES, and it is these AGEs that cause the
horrible side effects of diabetes, such as blindness, deafness,
heart attacks, strokes and kidney damage. AGEs can damage every
tissue in the body. HBA1C, the blood test doctors use to measure
control of diabetes, actually measures this sugar bound to the
protein on a person's cells. AGEs may also cause cancers, aging of
tissues, and arteriosclerosis by raising cholesterol and causing
clotting and are associated with loss of kidney function,
Alzheimer's disease, thinning and wrinkling of skin and cataracts.
Exciting research from the University of Reading in England may
eventually allow us to eat French fires and potato chips without
being harmed by acrylamides (4). Deep frying at high temperature
causes sugar in potatoes to stick to protein to form acrylamides.
Donald Mottram showed that asparagine, only one of the 21 amino
acids that form protein in humans, sticks to sugar. If this is true,
it may be relatively simple to finding and use strains of potato
with a low asparagine content, or genetically engineer potatoes or
wheat that lacks asparagine. Then foods could be made from them
that did not have asparagine available to form acrylamide.
Cooking with water prevents sugars from binding to proteins to form
these poisonous chemicals. Since steamed and boiled vegetables,
whole grains, beans and fruits are cooked with water, they do not
contain significant amounts of advanced glycation products. This is
another reason that you should eat your fruits, vegetables, whole
grains and beans -- raw or cooked with water. We no longer recommend
eating potato chips or French fries as a source of salt when you
exercise, and we will avoid eating them ourselves.
1) Margareta Tomquist, Stockholm University , pres conference,
2) Helen Vlassara, at the Picower Institute for Medical Research
in Manhasset, N.Y. presented to the annual meeting of the American
Diabetes Association in San Francisco June, 1996.
3) Raj, D Choudhury, TC Welbourne, , Levi. Advanced glycation end
products: A nephrologist's perspective. American Journal of Kidney
Diseases, 2000, Vol 35, Iss 3, pp 365-380.
4) Nature, Vol 419, pp 448-449
Dr. Gabe Mirkin's Fitness and Health e-Zine