ACRYLAMIDE: What is it? Public Concerns and a Review of Literature

 Acrylamide (AA) is a popular topic nowadays. Since its discovery in many food products in 2002, concerns are raised, whether it is a toxin or carcinogen. Individual researches revealed that a high dose of AA caused cancer in animals. So, possible adverse health effects on people are being investigated thoroughly.

Acrylamide is an industrially utilized chemical that also found to be forming in foods during high-temperature cooking processes such as frying, roasting, and baking. Boiling or steaming does not seem to be forming AA. Precursors of AA are glycosides of amino acids that are produced through Maillard reactions under high temperatures. Certain chemical pathways leading to the formation of acrylamide from these precursors. It turns out that the type of amino acid is significantly important here as aminoacid asparagine glycoside gives rise to greater amounts of acrylamide than other aminoacid glycosides. Other mechanisms also contribute to the formation of AA.

AA is generally found in foods of plants such as coffee, potato, and grain products, but it is also present in many heat-processed carbohydrate-rich foods like biscuits, bread, crisps. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found the highest amount of AA in solid coffee substitutes and coffee, and fried potato products.

Toddlers, infants, and children are more exposed to AA than adolescents, adults, and the elderly. Exposure of all people is related to cereal and potato products.

It is observed that cooking conditions impact AA formation. Brown French fries have higher amounts of AA than golden yellow, and dark brown toast has it more than light brown. Brown zones can be associated with higher AA concentrations. More AA forms as both temperature and cooking time increases. 

Picture A&B: Based on FDA studies, golden-brown French fries and light brown toast has less acrylamide than their respective counterparts.

When ingested, AA is efficiently absorbed that it is rapidly distributed throughout the body. It can even cross the placenta and can be found in human milk with relatively low quantities. It is highly metabolized in the human body converted to glutathione (GSH) and glycidamide (GA). GA is considered to be the cause of genotoxicity (ability to damage genetic material) and carcinogenicity (ability to develop cancer). It is shown that GA can bind to DNA, although this not observed in vitro and in vivo in animal or human tissue. GA also bind to proteins (e.g., Haemoglobin)

Our bodies get rid of AA and GA by converting it to mercapturic acids, which is excreted in the urine. For this reason, urine tests can be used as biomarkers to detect AA exposure by detecting successor compounds of AA.

Adverse health effects of AA in rats, mice, monkeys, cats, and dogs consisted of loss of weight, nervous system effects, and some damage to reproductive systems. In a 2-year study, GA showed the same adverse effects as AA in mice.

What can be concluded from such information? Is acrylamide consumption a problem? What should be the consumers' actions? What should we eat?

FDA recommends no particular action concerning acrylamide. Their stance is that people should adopt a healthy diet with lowered saturated & trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars. So, observing a healthy diet with constraining consumption of fried products is the move, and everything is fine!