Counteracting the Damaging Effects of the Food Toxin Acrylamide with Natural Substances


Introduction to Acrylamide

Acrylamide is a chemical compound that is a white odorless crystalline solid, soluble in water, ethanol, ether, and chloroform. 

It is a chemical that is used industrially in water processing plants and in plastics manufacturing.  It is also a byproduct of cooking certain types of foods with high temperatures (frying, baking or roasting).  When carbohydrate and starchy foods, such as potato’s (potato chips), french fries and breads, are heated higher than 120 °C (248 °F), the production of the gene mutating acrylamide occurs.  1  

Acrylamide is produced by the reaction between asparagine and reducing sugars or reactive carbonyls.  Asparagine is a non-essential amino acid and found in many animal and plant foods, such as:

  • Animal sources: dairy, whey, beef, poultry, eggs, fish,  seafood
  • Plant sources: asparagus, potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy, whole grains

Appearance and Production of Acrylamide in Certain Foods and other Non-Foods

Acrylamide appears in many food and especially foods that are heated for longer periods of time and foods heated at temperatures above 120 °C (248 °F).  2  Acrylamide is not found in foods that are boiled.  3  It is also not found in raw foods.  4 

The foods (mostly processed foods) that have been identified to contain acrylamide are the following:

  • bagels
  • baked goods
  • biscuits
  • black olives   5 
  • bread
  • breaded chicken
  • breakfast cereals
  • coffee  6  
  • donuts
  • dried fruits (the highest concentrations of acrylamide are found in dried pears and prunes)  7
  • dry soup mix  8
  • french fries
  • peanut butter  9
  • pizza  10
  • popcorn
  • potato chips
  • pretzels
  • prune juice  11
  • prunes   12
  • toast

Acrylamide is also found in non-food substances:

  • Cigarette smoke  13
    • The DNA adduct levels of acrylamide and glycidamide were similar in cases and controls, with smokers having much higher levels (approximately 3 times) than nonsmokers.  14
  • Drinking water (some drinking waters contain acrylamide)  15 

Metabolizm of Acrylamide and its Disease Risk

When foods that contain acrylamide are consumed, it is metabolized in the liver by the enzyme CYP 2E1 which produces an epoxide called glycidamide.  16  Glycidamide is considered to be 100-1000 times more reactive with DNA than acrylamide, and considered as genotoxic.  17 

Glycidamide is more toxic than acrylamide since it causes small mutations in cells called DNA adducts, which may lead to the development of cancer.  18  Acrylamide and glycidamide formed DNA adducts at similar specific locations within TP53 and cII, and DNA adduct formation was more pronounced after glycidamide treatment than after acrylamide treatment at all doses tested.  19 

The detoxification of acrylamide or glycinamide is through the conjugation to glutathione, where it can be excreted from the body. it is excreted from the body. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), exposure to acrylamide causes tumors in the adrenal glands, thyroid, lungs, and testes.  20

As of 2014, a certain study indicated that science is still unclear as to linking acrylamide to human cancers.  The authors state that:

“the link of dietary acrylamide (AA) to human cancer is still under debate, although AA has been known as a potential cause of various toxic effects including carcinogenic effects in experimental animals. Furthermore, the oxidized metabolite of AA, glycidamide (GA), is more toxic than AA. Both AA and GA can form adducts with protein, DNA, and hemoglobin, and some of those adducts can serve as biomarkers for AA exposure; their potential roles in the linking of AA to human cancer, reproductive defects or other diseases, however, are unclear.”  21

However, a study published in 2003 from the Beckman Research Institute at the City of Hope National Medical Center proves that acrylamide can lead to cancer-causing DNA changes in mammalian cells.  22  The researchers treated mouse embryonic fibroblast cells with acrylamide which induced DNA adducts and increased the frequency of mutations at specific locations along the gene.

The Beckman Research Institute study from 2003 concluded that acrylamide has DNA-damaging properties, known as DNA adduct formation and induction of mutations, which may lead to tumor formation.  23

Acrylamide has been shown to be the cause of several types of cancer, including:  

  • Endometrial cancer  24
  • Kidney cancer  25
  • Ovarian cancer  26

Acrylamide has also been shown to increase the risk of Atherosclerosis.  27

Acrylamide has also been found to be a neurotoxin when exposed either from the air, as in industrial settings, or by food consumption.  28  Acrylamide exposure may cause neuropathies. Evidence suggests that subchronic low-level work exposure to acrylamide may bring on ataxia, gait abnormalities, skeletal muscle weakness, skin abnormalities, and numbness of hands and feet. Some toxicological studies suggested that acrylamide vapours irritate the eyes and the skin and cause paralysis of the cerebrospinal system.  29  30 

Natural Substances that Counteract the Toxic Effects of Acrylamide

There have been a number of research studies that have evaluated the efficiency of natural substances to counteract the toxic and DNA damaging effects of acrylamide.  Following are the identified natural substances:


The first study suggests that curcumin could attenuate acrylamide induced DNA damage in Hep G2 cells (Hep G2 is a human liver cancer cell line) due to a significant decrease in reactive oxygen species (free radicals).   31 

The second study from 2008 showed that curcumin at the concentration of 2.5 microg/mL significantly reduced acrylamide-induced free radical production, DNA fragments, micronuclei formation, and cytotoxicity in HepG2 cells.  These data suggest that curcumin could attenuate the cytotoxicity and genotoxicity induced by acrylamide in HepG2 cells.  32

Korean Ginseng  

In this study from 2006, the researchers treated with Panax ginseng before, during or after acrylamide treatment, and reduced or partially antagonized the effects induced by acrylamide towards the normal values of controls. It could be concluded that Panax ginseng extract exhibited a protective action against acrylamide toxicity and it is worth noting that treatment with Panax ginseng extract before or at the same time as acrylamide treatment was more effective than when administered after acrylamide treatment.  33


Consuming rosemary as a dried herb, a supplement, or adding it to food before preparation has been shown to reduce acrylamide levels in cooked food.  Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark tested various antioxidants in prepared food to test the levels of acrylamide.  The addition of rosemary to dough prior to baking a portion of wheat buns at 225°C reduced the acrylamide content by up to 60 per cent. Even rosemary in small quantities – in one per cent of the dough – was enough to reduce the acrylamide content significantly.  34

Alpha-lipoic acid

This study from 2014 aimed to evaluate the protective role of alpha-lipoic acid on the oxidative damage induced by acrylamide in testicular and epididymal tissues.  Treatment with alpha-lipoic acid prior to acrylamide induced protective effects and attenuated these biochemical changes.  35

Chlorophyllin and indole-3-carbinol (I3C)

When acrylamide attaches itself to DNA, it causes an “adducts which prevent DNA from being replicated normally when cells divide. It’s important to prevent this type of damage so that DNA will replicate normally and not create the potential for cancer.

Two natural substances are known to reduce DNA adducts by reducing the exposure to acyrlamide:

Chlorophyllin  36

Indole-3-carbinol (I3C)  37

Acrylamide in food can cause cancer

The Science Behind Acrylamide