Managing risk

Decades ago, the artificial sweetener cyclamate was banned because it caused bladder cancer in rats. Later, it turned out that this was an artifact of (1) the tendency of cyclamate to form a precipitate with the male rat urinary globulin in the bladder, which leads to inflammation and promotes cancer, and (2) the fact that experiments were only done with male rats. Are cyclamates dangerous for humans? Who knows?

The lesson here is not that we should ignore animal testing. The lesson is that we should be careful about extrapolating from animal testing.

It has long been known that acrylamide, a neurotoxin and possible carcinogen, is generated by ordinary baking and frying. Studies in rat cells and whole rats implicate acrylamide in DNA damage of the sort that is associated with increased cancer risk.

“However, there have also been some toxicology studies that show humans and rodents both absorb acrylamide at different rate and metabolize it differently, so animal findings don’t necessarily translate to us. So what do the officials say?

“In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conducted a risk assessment of acrylamide in food. Evaluating the available scientific data, it delivered a scientific opinion on the matter, with the following conclusions:

• Animal studies demonstrate that acrylamide and glycidamide are genotoxic (DNA or chromosome-damaging) and carcinogenic (potentially cancer-causing).

• However, there’s limited evidence from human studies to suggest dietary intake of acrylamide increases our risk of cancer.

• The level of dietary exposure to acrylamide could be a concern – at least in terms of causing abnormal cell growth – for public health if further quality evidence in humans supports it.

• Current levels of dietary exposure to acrylamide aren’t of concern when it comes to other health issues.

“After a call to revisit those conclusions with new data, the EFSA reached the same scientific opinion in 2022.”

The fact is that we are exposed to numerous natural carcinogens throughout our lives. Sunlight is one. Other examples include naturally occurring mycotoxins in food: aflatoxins, sterigmatocystin, ochratoxin A, zearalenone, T-2 toxin, patulin, penicillic acid, griseofulvin, luteoskyrin, cyclochlorotine and ergot. Of course, every time you climb behind the wheel of your car, you are risking serious injury or death. It’s easy to be distracted by the fashionable hazard de jour, but to live is to risk death. The challenge isn’t to live risk-free, it’s to manage your risk tolerance.

Do We Need To Worry About Acrylamide In Our Food Causing Cancer? | IFLScience