Mmmm, buttery anything. There are very few folks we know here at FoodFacts.com who don’t enjoy the flavor of butter in sauces, baked goods, snacks and well, basically, anything. But did you ever wonder how that butter flavor found its way into many of the processed foods we find on our grocery shelves?
Some of them contain a flavoring ingredient called diacetyl. Diacetyl is a naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation and exists in low levels in both beer and wine. When the levels of diacetyl go up, the buttery flavor and aroma result. But, diacetyl has been a controversial ingredient for quite some time. The United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has suggested that diacetyl may be hazardous when heated and inhaled over a long period of time. Workers in factories that manufacture artificial butter flavoring have been diagnosed with brohiolitis obliterans, an uncommon lung disease that is quite serious. As a result many of this, many major microwave popcorn manufacturers removed diacetyl from their products.
Now there is a new study out that again involves the chronic exposure of workers in factories producing the ingredient. While it’s been removed from most major popcorn brand, you can still find it in margarines, snack foods, and baked goods. And this time, the results of the new study link it to intensifying the effects of a protein that’s present in Alzheimer’s disease.
In Alzheimer’s disease, beta-amyloid proteins clump together in the brain. These “bunches” of protein are actually a marker for the disease. Researchers realized that diacetyl has a structure similar to the substance that causes the beta-amyloid proteins to “bunch” in Alzheimer’s disease victims. So they studied whether it could act in the same manner as other substances on those proteins.
Sadly, it does appear that diacetyl increased the levels of protein clumping. Not a great relationship between the flavoring and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, it was found that diacetyl also intensified the protein’s toxic effect on nerve cells in a laboratory setting. The amount of diacetyl exposure that made that occur was the standard occupational level. This is another blow to workers in the flavoring industry. And on top of all that, more experiments conducted in the lab illustrated that diacetyl can penetrate the barrier between the blood and the brain which is what prevents harmful substances from entering.
This truly revealing research is especially alarming to industry employees, whose exposure to the flavoring is long-term and raises the really disturbing possibility of neurological problems. In addition, FoodFacts.com does wonder if diacetyl really belongs in the GRAS category. If chronic exposure has this level of harmful effect on the brain, perhaps other studies need to be run on the flavoring that go further than those conducted in the past to determine its level of safety for the consumer. Read more here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120801132606.htm and as always, read labels!