August 3, 2012
MINNEAPOLISPast studies have shown that inhalation of diacetyl by workers in factories processing microwave popcorn can potentially lead to respiratory problems, with some developing bronchiolitis obliterans, resulting in recommendations for such workers to wear respiratory protection. Now new research from the University of Minnesota has found possible links between exposure to diacetyl and Alzheimers disease (The Butter Flavorant, Diacetyl, Exacerbates -Amyloid Cytotoxicity, Aug. 2012, Chemical Research in Toxicology).
Diacetyl, a natural byproduct of fermentation, is sometimes used to lend a characteristically buttery flavor to a variety of food products, including margarine, snack foods, candy, baked goods and alcoholic beverages like wine. It was also formerly a regular ingredient in microwave popcorn. However, manufacturers of microwave popcorn generally removed diacetyl from their formulas back in 2007 in the wake of safety concerns (see Microwave Popcorn to Omit a Risky Chemical, The New York Times, Sept. 5, 2007).
As reported by Science Daily, the Minnesota researchers found that diacetyl intensifies the damaging effects of an abnormal brain protein linked to Alzheimers disease (see Artificial Butter Flavoring Ingredient Linked to Key Alzheimers Disease Process). They also found that diacetyl enhanced toxic effects on nerve cells in a laboratory setting, and that it crosses the blood-brain barrier.
In summary, the researchers noted, In light of the chronic exposure of industry workers to DA (diacetyl), this study raises the troubling possibility of long-term neurological toxicity mediated by DA.
For more on diacetyl and safety measures surrounding the flavoring, see OSHA Releases Diacetyl Flavoring Bulletin on the Food Product Design website.
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