The Chemicals In
Burned Toast And Crispy Fries Won't Kill You, But The Calories Might
A new campaign to promote
awareness about not burning food like toast and potatoes were
launched. Doing so generates a chemical called acrylamide, which the
International Agency for Research on Cancer categorised as "probably
carcinogenic to humans. There's just one problem: there's no
compelling proof that acrylamide causes cancer in humans. Cancer
Research UK notes that acrylamide could produce mutations linked to
cancer when they interact with DNA but human studies have yet to
find such a connection.
There's no evidence that
acrylamide consumption increases the risk of getting any cancer says
the American Cancer Society but the Chief Cancer Control Officer at
the American Cancer Society Richard Wender, note that fried potatoes
and other crispy carbs have one link to cancer. They are the second
leading cause of preventable cancer in the US, just behind tobacco
and are full of unnecessary calories and obesity.
Many articles on cancer
hazards cite the IARC's list of possible cancer causes. Despite the
fact that court cases reveal IARC designations as confirmation on
whether something is or is not carcinogenic.
The Group 2A list is just
one level below Group 1 where acrylamide resides, which lists known
cancer causes and includes things such as human papillomavirus (HPV),
insecticides, malaria, and working as a petroleum refiner. When you
understand that Group 2A also includes being a shiftwork
hairdresser, that involves disrupting your circadian rhythm, and
very hot beverages, it sounds scary.
It doesn't mean that
everything on the list all causes cancer in humans because of some
evidence that might increase a person's risk for cancer. The IARC's
greatest misunderstanding is this: the IARC classifies possible
carcinogens by how likely it is that they cause cancer but doesn't
classify known carcinogens by how much cancer they cause.
Animal studies reveal the
acrylamide's place on the IARC list shows very high doses of
acrylamide to raise the risk of certain kinds of cancer in non-human
animals. Those studies recommend that acrylamide can cause cancer
through some strange mechanism, cause changes in DNA that result in
cancer but researchers have yet to discover what that mechanism
To test carcinogenic; rats
and mice were given acrylamide; they're given higher doses of 1,000
to 10,000 times greater than what humans are commonly exposed to in
food. This method allows researchers to see even the tiniest effects
and is the common way of testing carcinogenicity. A Professor and
statistician of the Public Understanding of Risk at University of
Cambridge, David Spiegelhalter and Dr Alastair Brown from
Medical says Adults with the enormous consumption of acrylamide
could consume 160 times more and still only be at a stage that
toxicologists think unlikely to cause elevated tumors in mice."
Human studies haven't
found any increased risk to cite, so none of the articles discussing
burnt toast and potatoes cited statistics. The numbers are likely to
be minuscule even if they had, which means the risk had to be
reported in a measured way.
For example, Brian Zikmund-Fisher
illustrates a problem that the FDA put out a warning that people
shouldn't eat cookie dough because some flour is infected with E.
coli, but the chances that you are getting such an infection are
tiny. It would be easy to say that the FDA shouldn't be frightening
people about such a small risk.
Zikmund-Fisher opposes and
says the FDA is not wrong for saying that consuming raw flour has an
incremental risk, but if we're not discussing recalled flour, the
absolute risk is minimal. People will need to estimate how much they
value burnt potatoes and toast if acrylamide does increase our risk
of having cancer by some tiny amount.
agencies, and journalists have to communicate the risks precisely
for folks to make an informed choice. A Director of the Behavioral
Decision Making Initiative at The Ohio State University, Ellen
Peters says people overestimate that they will to benefit from a
medication if you don't give them the numeric chances of benefit.
Providing the number or not is the biggest difference she says.
There were no numbers to give in the case of burnt potatoes, but the
fact that a risk is involved makes a difference. Peters says this is
not a neutral way to present information.
You're likely to ignore
hundreds of articles for years on various things that may or may not
increase your cancer risk. Zikmund-Fisher says we can only bother so
much at any given point in time, and when we bombard people with
messages, they turn it all off. All this bombardment makes people
focus on the wrong things. This means that cumulative experience is
You can dramatically
reduce your risk of getting or dying from cancer by Avoiding all
tobacco, trying to achieve a healthy weight as possible, exercising,
protecting yourself from the sun. Getting cancer-preventing vaccines
like HPV vaccines a Hepatitis B, being screened for Hepatitis C, and
getting all recommended cancer screens. Follow these steps and
cancer risk would be cut in half if you eat the occasional fried
potato and burnt toast.