Posted: 08 May 2014 08:00 AM PDT
Toxic substances like high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, and trans fats have polluted our food supply for over a century. But, at least the ingredient label will tell you when they’re present. This isn’t always the case. You need to be aware of acrylamide, a neurotoxin and carcinogen that can form when carbohydrates are fried. As a cooking byproduct, it’s not on the ingredients list. But, it’s there and it’s bad stuff. The negative health implications of consuming this chemical have even prompted the World Health Organization to issue warnings.  Here are the top 12 facts you need to know about acrylamide to protect your health.
1. What is Acrylamide?
Although acrylamide is, largely, a byproduct of frying carbohydrates, and that’s how most people are exposed, it also has industrial uses. It’s used for the production of polymers, paper, plastics, caulking, food packaging, and adhesives. 
2. The Connection to Fried Foods
In food, acrylamide forms through what’s known as the Maillard reaction — a chemical reaction between sugars and amino acids. Sugars and starches, such as potatoes, can form acrylamides when cooked at 248 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and fats are oxidized.  Although fried foods are the most likely culprit, baked and roasted foods also have the potential for forming acrylamides, especially if they’re heavy on the carbohydrates.
3. Many Foods Contain Acrylamide
Acrylamide is found in potato chips, French fries, and even coffee. French fries contain some of the highest levels of acrylamide and the common practice of extending the cooking time to achieve a crispier fry can produce 10x as much acrylamide.  Other sources include cereal-based snacks, rye bread, donuts, and biscuits. Casseroles with a lot of starch also have high levels of acrylamide.  
4. Food Isn’t the Only Source of Exposure
Some cosmetic products contain acrylamide in the form of polyacrylamide, which breaks down into acrylamide after being absorbed into the skin.  High blood levels of acrylamide have been found in people who work in cosmetic factories. 
5. Smoking Doesn’t Help the Situation
Research suggests that the entire US population suffers from some form of acrylamide exposure; it’s difficult to get away from. But, just as it always does, tobacco can make health problems even worse. Those who smoke tobacco consistently have the highest levels of acrylamide in their blood. 
6. Infants and Young Children are Especially at Risk
Prompted by baby food contamination, a Polish study analyzed the effect of acrylamide exposure in infants aged 6-12 months. The infants with the highest levels of acrylamide in their blood had levels a few dozen times higher than normal.  One study of 110 American children found that acrylamide levels were 50% higher than adult subjects.  One of the most startling conclusions? French fry consumption was responsible for the most significant increases. 
7. Exactly How Dangerous is Acrylamide Exposure?
Health and environmental authorities, including the EPA, warn that acrylamide is a dangerous neurotoxin that can damage the nervous system.   A number of studies have also explored its carcinogenic effects and animal studies suggest that acrylamide can contribute to tumor development in the thyroid, testes, mammary glands, lungs, and brain. Lab studies have confirmed that acrylamide kills brain cells.  Bottom line? It’s toxic stuff.
8. Negatively Affects Fetal Development
A survey taken between 2006-2010 revealed that acrylamide consumption correlated with smaller head circumferences and lower birth weights in recently born infants.  Another study of 50,651 women in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study confirmed a reduction of fetal growth following acrylamide exposure. 
9. Upsets Blood Sugar
Recent research confirms the relationship between acrylamide levels and insulin levels — not a good one either. Increased levels of acrylamide are associated with a decrease in serum insulin — this makes it very difficult to control blood sugar!  For people who already have trouble controlling their blood sugar, such as diabetics, the health implications can be disastrous.
10. Negatively Affects the Immune System
Trying to be healthy? Avoid acrylamide. Regular exposure has been linked to autoimmune diseases. One study found that individuals whose work regularly exposed them to acrylamide had an increased risk for developing lupus, scleroderma, and Sjögren’s syndrome. 
11. Cooking Methods Can Reduce Exposure
Since fried foods are the primary means most folks are exposed to acrylamide, avoiding fried and starchy foods, like French fries and donuts, can be one of the best steps toward reducing acrylamide intake. Instead, boil or steam your food to better avoid this dangerous chemical.  It may be a drastic change, but consider adopting a raw vegan diet, the health benefits are incredible!
12. Diet Can Limit Damage
Certain herbs and spices may provide a level of defense against acrylamide. Curcumin, an active molecule in turmeric, was tested for its impact on liver cells damaged by acrylamides. It reportedly reduced DNA damage by a significant factor, probably due to its antioxidant properties. ] While this study focused specifically on curcumin, other antioxidant-rich foods may provide similar protection.
A Final Thought
Fried and processed foods are best avoided for many reasons, not just acrylamide. In their own right, most are devoid of nutrition and little more than a food pellet with too much sugar and starch that lead to chronic disease.
What hidden sources of acrylamide are you aware of? What steps have you taken to reduce your own exposure? Please leave a comment and share with us!
-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
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