Artificial butter flavoring ingredient linked to key Alzheimer’s disease process

A new study raises concern about chronic exposure of workers in industry to a food flavoring ingredient used to produce the distinctive buttery flavor and aroma of microwave popcorn, margarines, snack foods, candy, baked goods, pet foods and other products. It found evidence that the ingredient, diacetyl (DA), intensifies the damaging effects of an abnormal brain protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The study appears in ACS’ journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.

Robert Vince and colleagues Swati More and Ashish Vartak explain that DA has been the focus of much research recently because it is linked to respiratory and other problems in workers at microwave popcorn and food-flavoring factories. DA gives microwave popcorn its distinctive buttery taste and aroma. DA also forms naturally in fermented beverages such as beer, and gives some chardonnay wines a buttery taste. Vince’s team realized that DA has an architecture similar to a substance that makes beta-amyloid proteins clump together in the brain — clumping being a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. So they tested whether DA also could clump those proteins.

DA did increase the level of beta-amyloid clumping. At real-world occupational exposure levels, DA also enhanced beta-amyloid’s toxic effects on nerve cells growing in the laboratory. Other lab experiments showed that DA easily penetrated the so-called “blood-brain barrier,” which keeps many harmful substances from entering the brain. DA also stopped a protective protein called glyoxalase I from safeguarding nerve cells. “In light of the chronic exposure of industry workers to DA, this study raises the troubling possibility of long-term neurological toxicity mediated by DA,” say the researchers.

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29 thoughts on “Artificial butter flavoring ingredient linked to key Alzheimer’s disease process”

  1. I have to think…how many bags of popcorn did I pop and eat….how many? And how many does it take to make these problems happen….1? 3? 10? Is that why I miss letters typing on this keyboard? Is that why I think I’m typing one word and type out another quite a bit of the time? I looked over this posting and found four errors to correct after I read it. Is this the begining of some serious mental problems for me?
    Thanks microwave popcorn…no more of my money.

  2. Don’t fool yourself, the food industry for the most part could care less about our health, they are focused on our wallets.

    • Brian,

      If that was true then they should be very concerned about our health since our continued good health is required to continue to buy their products and if they are found to be selling dangerous products they would be in financial ruin. It is easy to make foolish accusations with little or no proof to back it up. The US food supply is the safest it has been in history. Fools like you would like us to revert back to a system where per capital deaths from food born illness was 10 times what it is today!

      • The population is growing, not shrinking and there is a sucker born every minute. There is no shortage of people willing to ingest good tasting items while knowingly sacrificing their health.

  3. The actual paper: Swati S. More, Ashish P. Vartak, Robert Vince. The Butter Flavorant, Diacetyl, Exacerbates β-Amyloid Cytotoxicity. Chemical Research in Toxicology, 2012; : 120706140246003 DOI: 10.1021/tx3001016

  4. What about the really bad stuff for u at the movie theatre. I only eat half of a small cuz then I’m sick, but it sure tastes good.

  5. Anyone know the link to the actual article being referenced by this story? Would be nice to check it out. Should be somewhere on pubmed.

  6. This is what you get for not demanding to know what is in your food. If you think there is only one chemical that does this sort of ****, you are crazy.

    • But we do know what’s in our food which is why we can say that it’s found in “microwave popcorn, margarines, snack foods, candy, baked goods, pet foods and other products”. Food additives need to be studied and approved safe before they can go into our food. If evidence later shows they are unsafe then they will be removed from our food.

      The other important consideration is that, as always, it’s all a matter of dose. The fact that this is in our food probably raises a the risk of Alzheimer’s by a negligible amount. This study is aimed at chronic exposure to large amounts of DA, not the amounts that we would be getting from food.

      • Let’s not forget that even though they are exposed to larger amounts, they are working with the stuff–not eating it. Just handling it can increase the risk? That’s kind of scary.

        Clearly being studied and approved does not mean it is safe.

        Time to tighten up the definition of food, people!

  7. wow this is some scary stuff. I work with this garbage nearly every day at a food production company. It has been know to cause “popcorn lung” in people who have been exposed at high levels. Time for a new job!

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