Snack Food Cancer Risk Debunked

Acrylamide Doesn't Raise Cancer Risk

From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 28, 2003 -- French fry and snack food lovers can breathe a sigh of relief, for now. The first study to look at the link between a substance found in many fried and processed foods and the risk of cancer in humans shows there's no cause for alarm.

Last spring, a Swedish study raised concerns after it found high levels of acrylamide -- a substance thought to cause cancer in animals -- in many popular foods, including potato chips, breads, and cereals. Experts say acrylamide seems to be produced when carbohydrate-rich foods are cooked at prolonged, high temperatures.

But in a new study, published in the Jan. 28 issue of the British Journal of Cancer, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found no evidence that eating foods high in acrylamide increases the risk of three common forms of cancer in humans.

The study compared the diets of close to 1,000 cancer patients and more than 500 healthy adults over a five-year period. They were specifically looking for any link between eating foods known to contain acrylamide and cancer of the bladder, colon, or kidney.

Researchers found people who ate the most acrylamide were at no greater risk of cancer than those who ate less.

In addition, people who ate moderate or high levels of acrylamide had no higher risk of any of the types of cancer studied.

But researchers are quick to point out that these findings don't mean eating fried foods is healthy.

It's reassuring that when we looked in detail at the effects of eating foods with high levels of acrylamide we found no increased risk for three major cancers, says Lorelei Mucci, of the Harvard School of Public Health, in a news release. "The findings don't condone eating junk food, however." she adds.

Acrylamide does increase the risk of certain nerve conditions and more research needs to be done in this area, says Mucci. "Overall, the results of this study provide some evidence that it looks as though there's much less to worry about than was initially thought".

For more information about the original Swedish report on acrylamide, see "Snack Food Cancer Scare Under Fire."