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

Checked 5/3/07

Dr. Gabe Mirkin's Fitness and Health e-Zine