Is This Popular Snack Causing Alzheimer's?

Is This Popular Snack Causing Alzheimer's?

Written by Adam English
Posted August 13, 2012

A common ingredient in one of America's most popular snack foods has just been linked to Alzheimer's disease in a new study.

The study from scientists at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis draws a link between an artificial butter flavoring for popcorn and an abnormal brain protein that’s been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

“This study raises the troubling possibility of long-term neurological toxicity mediated by diacetyl," Robert Vince and colleagues concluded.

Diacetyl is responsible for the buttery flavor and smell of microwave popcorn. It also can be found in margarine, candies and baked goods. It is naturally present in some alcoholic drinks like beer and chardonnay, though in much smaller amounts.

As reported in the Chemical Research in Toxicology publication, the researchers realized that diacetyl has a similar structure to a substance that makes proteins clump together in the brain. When these beta-amyloid proteins start clumping together, they form the plaques that are associated with Alzheimer's.

Diacetyl is driving growth in these plaques and making them worse. It is causing more protein clumping, which leads to more plaque deposits. That, in turn, makes them more toxic and leads to more damage to the brain.

The popular flavoring easily penetrates the "blood-brain barrier," a protective feature that keeps toxins from entering the brain, while suppressing a protein known to safeguard brain cells.

The combination of effects raises serious questions about the safety of the additive and how much is truly acceptable to ingest.

The researchers stated in a press release: "Whether toxic levels of diacetyl are achieved in various body compartments upon mere consumption of diacetyl-containing food substances is an unanswered but an important question," Robert Vince from University of Minnesota and colleagues said in an American Chemical Society's news release.

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