Popcorn, Factory Workers and Dementia?

Alzheimers link to chemical in buttered popcorn may be a concern for factory workers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Beta amyloid is linked to brain cell death in Alzheimer’s disease. And recent lab studies found that a common food chemical may enhance its harmful effects.

The chemical, diacetyl, gives buttery flavor to food and drinks. Lab studies found that high levels of the chemical seemed to make beta amyloid more toxic to brain cells.

The researchers urge more research to make sure that factory workers exposed to the chemical are safe.

"Talk to a nutritionist about healthy eating."

Diacetyl is a chemical used to give buttery flavor to foods. The version used in buttered popcorn is man-made. It also occurs naturally in beer and wine.

Researchers, led by Swati More, PhD, at the Center for Drug Design of the University of Minnesota, used cells in a dish to look at the effects of diacetyl on beta amyloid.

They found that diacetyl caused beta amyloid to clump together. Clumping of beta amyloid into plaques is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

They also found that diacetyl moved easily through tissue that was used to mimic the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier guards the brain and only allows certain things to pass through.

The researchers concluded that diacetyl may be able to enter the brain and, once there, may increase clumping of beta amyloid.

The authors report concern for food and factory workers that may be exposed to it in large amounts.

However, the research did not look at the actions of diacetyl in living persons, so it is unclear if the chemical does these things in people.

In fact, this study did not look at how the chemical enters the body. It is not clear that small amounts from eating foods and drinks that have diacetyl is harmful in any way.

More research is needed.

The study was published June 25 in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology. The study was funded by the Center for Drug Design at the University of Minnesota.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 10, 2012
Last Updated:
June 20, 2013