TUESDAY, April 28, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Acrylamide, a food byproduct that some research has linked to certain cancers, doesn't raise the risk of lung cancer in men and may even offer slight protection for women, new research suggests.
In a study that included more than 120,000 men and women, Dutch researchers reported that they found no association between lung cancer and acrylamide in men and an 18 percent lower risk in women for a 10-microgram/day average intake of acrylamide.
"After taking smoking and other lung cancer risk factors into account, it turned out that men who ingested more acrylamide were not more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than men who consumed less acrylamide," said study author Janneke G.F. Hogervorst, of Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
"Unexpectedly, women who ingested more acrylamide were less likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than women who ingested less acrylamide," said Hogervorst, who added that since this is the first study to come to this conclusion, the findings need to be replicated before any dietary recommendations could be made.
The findings appear in the April 28 online issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Acrylamide is a chemical that forms during some high-temperature cooking processes, such as roasting, baking or frying. The compound was first discovered in food in 2002, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some common foods that contain acrylamide include potato chips, French fries, baked goods, coffee, bread and cookies, according to the study.
Approximately one-third of the calories Americans consume contain acrylamide, according to an accompanying editorial in the same issue of the journal.
Animals exposed to high doses of acrylamide have developed cancer, and although many studies have now been done on humans, the results have been mixed. Karen Collins, a nutrition adviser for the American Institute for Cancer Research, said some studies have found a positive association between acrylamide and renal, ovarian and endometrial cancers, but that the evidence isn't conclusive yet. Other studies have found no association between acrylamide and gastrointestinal, colorectal, bladder, breast and prostate cancers, according to the editorial.
The current study included 58,279 men and 62,573 women, with an average follow-up time of 13.3 years. From this group, 2,649 people developed lung cancer.
When the researchers compared those with the highest intake of acrylamide to the lowest, they found no association between male acrylamide consumption and lung cancer. In women, those who had the highest intake appeared to have a 55 percent decreased risk of cancer compared to women who had the lowest acrylamide intake, the researchers said.
The authors theorized that acrylamide may have some effect on female hormones, which could offer protection against certain cancers, and increase the risk of others. "We do not advise women to start consuming more acrylamide-containing foods to reduce their lung cancer risk," noted Hogervorst. "Acrylamide may increase the risk of other cancers, and acrylamide-containing foods like fries and chips may increase the risk of other diseases, such as obesity and cardiovascular diseases."
"Acrylamide is such a complicated dietary factor," said editorial author Lorelei Mucci, an assistant professor of medicine in the department of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "It's in so many foods that are really bad for you, but a large portion of acrylamide comes from whole grain cereals and breads that are good for you."
"The public health message should really be to look at factors that really will lower your risk of cancer: exercise, keeping a healthy weight and not smoking. If there is an association with acrylamide and cancers, it's probably a small one," Mucci said.
"This study is good research, and they asked good research questions, but don't get distracted. For preventing cancer, the focus is on weight control, physical activity and consuming a mostly plant-based diet," said Collins.
"There's no reason to think we would do anything different in terms of eating habits as a result of this study," she said, adding, "There are a lot of good reasons to limit your consumption of potato chips, French fries, cake and cookies."
Learn more about acrylamide from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.