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Latest research warns of eating slightly burnt food

Do you scrape the burned pieces of toast off? It might not be a bad idea, according to recent studies…

It’s likely that you still practice some of the eating and cooking customs that you unknowingly picked up from grownups when you were younger. Maybe you never lick the knife you use to cut meals, or maybe you constantly sprinkle salt over your shoulder to fend off evil spirits.

Several of these peculiarities are probably just superstitions, but one in particular may have been unwittingly prophetic a few decades ago and based on a scientific discovery that had not yet occurred.

University of Stockholm researchers found in 2002 that it would be a good idea to scrape the charred parts off of your toast. They discovered that certain foods, such as potatoes, bread, biscuits, cereal, and coffee, generate a chemical known as acrylamide when heated to temperatures above 120C (248F), and the sugar in these foods combines with the amino acid asparagine.

The Maillard reaction is the mechanism responsible for the browning and characteristic flavor of food. However, researchers have discovered that acrylamide causes cancer only at quantities considerably higher than those present in human food.

According to the European Food Safety Authority, acrylamide may also make people, particularly youngsters, more likely to acquire cancer. Yet, no firm conclusion has yet been reached by experts examining the impacts on humans.

There is still conflicting evidence of its undeniable carcinogenicity in humans, nearly 30 years after it was designated as a “possible human carcinogen.

” Fatima Saleh, an associate professor of medical laboratory sciences at Beirut Arab University in Lebanon, argues that if human studies are conducted in the future, there may be enough evidence to change acrylamide’s categorization to one as a human carcinogen.

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Nonetheless, scientists are confident that acrylamide can harm humans’ nervous systems because it is neurotoxic to people. Although the precise reason of this is still not entirely understood, ideas suggest that acrylamide either damages structural proteins within nerve cells or may impede the anti-inflammatory mechanisms that shield nerve cells from harm.

Acrylamide has been demonstrated to have cumulative toxic effects, which means that taking a small amount of it repeatedly over time may raise the likelihood that it will have long-term consequences on organs.

Federica Laguzzi, an assistant professor of cardiovascular and nutritional epidemiology at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, explains that evidence from animal studies specifically suggests that long-term exposure to dietary acrylamide could also increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia, and may be linked to neurodevelopmental disorders in children.

Because it has a low molecular weight and is soluble in water, acrylamide “passes through all tissue, including the placenta,” claims Laguzzi, who has discovered a connection between higher acrylamide intake in pregnant women and the lower birth weight, head circumference, and length of their newborn babies.

The probable mechanism underlying acrylamide’s contribution to raising the risk of cancer in people is unknown at this time. Associate professor of epidemiology Leo Schouten from Maastricht University in the Netherlands has a hypothesis as to why it might take place.

After Swedish researchers’ discovery of acrylamide in our food in 2002, the Dutch Food Administration contacted researchers from the Netherlands Cohort Study on Diet and Cancer, including Schouten, to determine whether dietary acrylamide posed a risk to humans.

Based on a questionnaire, Schouten and colleagues attempted to determine the amount of acrylamide that individuals were taking in.

It’s possible that hormones are involved in the mechanism by which acrylamide might cause cancer.

They found that one popular Dutch food item called ontbijtkoek, loosely translated as “breakfast cake,” which was incredibly high in acrylamide due to the use of baking soda in the production, could be used as a primary explanation for the variation between people with low and high exposure in an elderly Dutch population.

They looked into the relationship between non-smokers’ intake of acrylamide and all malignancies because smoking also contains the chemical.

They discovered that women who were exposed to high levels of acrylamide had a higher risk of developing endometrial and ovarian cancer. Also, they discovered a slender association between acrylamide intake and kidney cancer in later trials.

Other studies have not yet verified these findings, though. The closest is a US population research that found that post-menopausal non-smoking women who ate a lot of acrylamide had a higher chance of developing ovarian and endometrial cancer.

It’s possible that there are additional causes as well; individuals who consume high quantities of acrylamide may also adopt other lifestyle habits that increase their risk.

Some research either didn’t find a relationship or found lesser associations. Uncertainty exists on whether the association Schouten and his team discovered was false or whether other research’ measurements of acrylamide intake were inaccurate.

According to Schouten, certain hormones have been linked to an elevated risk of cancer, particularly female genital cancers including endometrial and ovarian cancer, suggesting that the mechanism underlying acrylamide’s propensity to cause cancer may be connected to hormones.

According to Schouten, “Acrylamide may have an impact on oestrogen or progesterone, which would explain the female malignancies, but this hasn’t been established.

Moreover, acrylamide consumption has been linked to cancer in the uterus, testicles, thyroid, and mammary glands in laboratory studies using rats. These findings likewise suggest a hormonal mechanism, but they may not necessarily translate to a similar risk in people.

More extensive research over a longer period of time is required, according to a 2010 recommendation made by the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives. It did, however, back initiatives to lower acrylamide levels in food.

But determining how much acrylamide we actually consume is one of the toughest hurdles.

The link between acrylamide and cancer in humans is still unknown, according to Laguzzi, despite the fact that it is generally known that acrylamide is genotoxic and can cause cancer in animals.

The majority of epidemiological research use dietary questionnaires to evaluate acrylamide intake, which can skew the results because it depends on participant reporting.

Many toxicologists disagreed with Schouten’s assertion that he was able to precisely assess the amount of acrylamide in people’s diets. Biomarker analysis of urine and blood is a different method for determining acrylamide intake, however Schouten claims that this method has also produced no conclusive results.

We may be able to implement safety precautions to reduce the risks posed by our overcooked chips.

It’s critical to do more studies in which acrylamide is assessed using biomarkers, particularly through blood, as this reveals acrylamide intake over a longer time period than urine, according to Laguzzi.

In US investigations, acrylamide has just recently been evaluated using biomarkers. One study from 2022 found a connection between acrylamide intake and cancer deaths but was unable to determine which malignancies were involved because it used data spanning a decade.

We may have preventative mechanisms in place that reduce the increased hazards brought on by our overcooked chips, which may be one reason there isn’t much proof that the quantities of acrylamide in our diets can raise the risk of cancer.

In her study summarizing the population data for this association, Laguzzi found no connection between acrylamide intake and the risk of non-gynecological cancer. She speculates that this might be the case either because humans have robust repair systems that can guard against both possible carcinogenic and neurological consequences, or because these studies used erroneous measurements of dietary acrylamide exposure.

Also, we do not eat acrylamide by itself. It may also be found in food, where substances like antioxidants can help stop the damaging mechanisms, the expert claims.

The food industry is taking steps to lower the amount of acrylamide in our foods despite the lack of credible evidence demonstrating the dangers of acrylamide consumption for people.

“The EU is in the process of determining maximum permitted limits for acrylamide in food, and that might have major ramifications for the food supply chain,” says Nigel Halford, whose research is assisting farmers to lessen the potential for acrylamide generation in goods manufactured from wheat.

While asparagine, the chemical that when heated, transforms into acrylamide, is present in plants, acrylamide is not.

He claims that because acrylamide “affects quite a wide spectrum of goods that come from cereal grains,” it is a significant issue for the food business.

For instance, 10 minutes of soaking sliced potatoes in hot water before using them to make chips will almost 90% lessen their acrylamide generation.

According to Halford, wheat grains accumulate far more asparagine than is essential, and it seems to do so more when they don’t receive all the elements they require, especially sulphur. Using the gene editing method Crispr, Halford is attempting to genetically halt these processes.

At the opposite end of the supply chain, several manufacturers have been asked to minimize the acrylamide content of their goods, particularly in infant food.

According to Schouten, this has been quite successful because it has allowed the Dutch breakfast cake ontbijtkoek to have just around 20% of the acrylamide it once did.

According to Saleh, there are also methods for lowering acrylamide when cooking at home. She suggests that cutting potatoes and soaking them in hot water for 10 minutes before using them to make chips will almost 90% lessen the development of acrylamide.

In recent years, according to Laguzzi, scientific curiosity about the potential health risks of acrylamide has increased. Although it may take time, she believes that any connection between acrylamide intake and cancer risk will eventually become apparent. In the interim, it would not be such a bad idea to continue scraping the charred bits off your toast.

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