The Very Real Danger of Acrylamide: Could French Fries be Killing you?

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Improving your diet is one of the most important things you can do to improve your overall health and wellbeing. For most people, this means avoiding sugary, fatty, or fast foods, as well as foods that are difficult for your body to process. Taking these steps will improve your health, lower your risk of certain diseases, and decrease your body’s stress levels. However, there is another reason to be cautious about the foods you eat. Certain foods contain potentially dangerous compounds such as acrylamide. This carcinogenic compound is found in many common foods and could be catastrophic for your health and worsen chronic conditions such as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

What is Acrylamide?

Acrylamide is a chemical compound often used to produce plastics and to purify drinking water. Basically, it’s used most often in industrial processes. However, evidence now suggests that acrylamide may be present in certain cooked foods. The compound is created during high-temperature cooking of starchy foods when sugars and a particular type amino acid are combined. This could pose significant problems for humans since studies performed on rodents have shown that repeated exposure to high levels of the compound can cause cancer.

In rodents, acrylamide is converted to glycidamide, a compound that causes DNA damage and mutation. Further research is still necessary to confirm the connection and studies on humans have not yet demonstrated the same effects. However, this may be because human studies have relied on self-reported estimates of acrylamide intake, which can be inaccurate. Furthermore, humans and rats metabolize compounds differently. Nonetheless, until additional research is performed, avoiding this compound as much as possible would appear to be the safest option. After all, a chemical used in industrial processing should not be a part of a healthy diet.

Which Foods Contain Acrylamide?

To create this compound in food, a number of conditions have to be met. Acrylamide is most often found in starchy foods that are cooked at very high temperatures, above 250° F. The cooking method is also important—baking, broiling, frying, and roasting are more likely to cause acrylamide to form compared to stewing, microwaving, and boiling. Basically, if you’re cooking food at a high temperature for a long time, it’s far more likely you’ll find this compound in your food.

Certain types of extremely common foods are much more likely to contain acrylamide than others, including the following:

  • French fries contain about one hundred times the maximum safe amount set by the World Health Organization for drinking water (0.12 micrograms).
  • Potato chips contain up to 500 times the maximum allowable amount for water.
  • Pringles contain around 25 micrograms per serving compared to the allowable amount for water.
  • Honey Nut Cheerios contain about 6 micrograms per serving.

Other foods that may contain acrylamide when overcooked include bread, rice, cereals, and biscuits. What this means is that being aware of what you’re eating is extremely important as well as how your food is prepared.

How to Avoid Acrylamide

Completely removing this compound from your diet may take a little bit of thought and effort, but it will be well worth it. Not only will you eliminate the associated health risks, but you may also improve your health in other ways. Many of the foods that contain acrylamide, such as biscuits and french fries, are also rich in trans-fats, an extremely dangerous type of oil used mostly for preparing deep-fried and processed foods. Trans fats are also strongly linked to cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

To avoid trans-fats as well as acrylamide, you’ll need to eliminate processed and fast foods from your diet. If you need to deep fry food at home, avoid using polyunsaturated or non-unsaturated fats such as corn oil or olive oil because the heat changes these oils into trans-fats. Instead, use coconut oil since it doesn’t react the same way to heat. Avoid overcooking starchy foods and try to eat raw and whole foods whenever possible. This is a much healthier way to eat that will not only improve your overall health but will also lower your risk of certain diseases. If you suffer from AFS, eating this way will also lower your body’s stress levels, and since it won’t have to contend with toxic foods, your body will be able to heal.

The Effects of Stress on the Adrenal Glands

At present, stress is one of the most serious health threats in the world. Modern lifestyles contain countless stressors, from work stress and relationships to physical and environmental stressors. But it wasn’t always this way. In the distant past, there were very few sources of stress and most of them were physical and short-lived. To cope with stress, your body developed what is known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response system. The NEM stress response prepares your body to fight or flee in response to stress, essentially keeping you safe. However, problems can arise when stress becomes chronic.

The adrenal glands are a key component of the NEM stress response and produce the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone gives you the energy and the alertness you need to fight or flee an immediate threat. But your body cannot differentiate between short-term life-threatening stressors and long-term stress. As a result, it reacts the same way to non-life-threatening stressors of the modern world. So when you experience chronic stress, your NEM stress response continuously triggers the release of cortisol. This places a huge amount of pressure on your adrenal glands and they eventually become fatigued, which can lead to AFS. Adrenal fatigue is not well understood but is typically characterized by multi-system involvement and a number of baffling symptoms that are often mistaken for other conditions or ignored. Unfortunately, this usually causes additional stress, which further fatigues your adrenal glands and if left addressed, can eventually lead to a full body shut down.

Healing from AFS means removing sources of stress and nourishing your body. A big part of this is re-evaluating your diet. Foods that are toxic or don’t adequately nourish your body should be reduced or eliminated completely because they will only increase stress levels and worsen AFS symptoms, leading to additional health problems. Foods that contain acrylamide should also be eliminated from your eating plan. If you are suffering from AFS, foods containing this toxic compound will increase the toxicity in your body, and trans fats and other unhealthy substances will also contribute to worsening your condition.

The Dangers of Toxins and AFS

If you are suffering from AFS, the six interconnected circuits of your body—each made up of a variety of organs and tissues—will eventually become unbalanced. When you’re healthy, these circuits work together to perform their tasks and keep your body functioning normally. However, when your adrenals become fatigued, dysfunction of these circuits as well as within individual organs and tissues can occur.

The detoxification circuit—comprised of the immune system, liver, and the extracellular matrix (ECM)—is an integral part of your body and has a number of essential duties. This includes removing toxins, bacteria, viruses, metabolites, and other potentially dangerous substances from your body. This circuit can become unbalanced if you are suffering from AFS, which means that the immune system, liver, and ECM will also stop functioning properly, which can lead to toxic buildup. If this occurs, you may experience some very frightening symptoms related to the increasing toxic load on your body and its effects on all of the other circuits.

If your diet is poor, this will naturally cause problems with the detoxification circuit, since it will have to eliminate unhealthy substances from your body. But if you are already experiencing detoxification circuit dysfunction as a result of AFS, these problems will be compounded. One major problem with the way people eat today is the number of toxins and unhealthy substances present in the foods we consume. If your detoxification circuit is not functioning correctly, these unhealthy chemicals and compounds can build up in your system leading to poor overall health and other health-related conditions. So, if you are suffering from AFS and you continue to eat foods that contain acrylamide, this will probably cause your body more problems than those a healthy person would experience. This is a serious problem owing to the link between acrylamide and cancer. If your body is unable to detoxify itself, this compound could build up in your system and serious problems can start to occur.

If you’re suffering from AFS, make sure you eliminate foods that potentially contain this compound. This will reduce the load on your detoxification circuit and perhaps even save you from long-term health problems.

The Takeaway

Acrylamide is a potentially toxic substance found in a variety of common foods. Some of these foods are also bad for your health in general, which is why you should eliminate them or at least minimize your intake. Recent findings have made this absolutely vital. If you want to stay healthy and heal your body from certain conditions and disorders, consuming this compound will hinder your efforts and create even more problems. So, if you want to be healthy and happy, make sure you know which foods contain acrylamide and eliminate them from your diet.

© Copyright 2012 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Acrylamide is used to produce plastics and dyes and is definitely not meant for human consumption. This dangerous chemical can be found in a number of common foods and has been linked to cancer and AFS.