To families that have experienced the tragic situation of their loved one diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, to find a cure would be such a miracle. And, even though a cure itself may seem far fetched at this point, promising new research has proven that an ingredient used in artificial butter flavoring, may worsen the effects of an abnormal brain protein that’s been linked to disease.
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 is also created naturally in fermented drinks like beer, and gives some chardonnay wines its buttery taste, according to the study.
Scientists at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Robert Vince and colleagues Swati More and Ashish Vartak, conducted an analysis of diacetyl (DA), a chemical which previously has been linked to respiratory problems in employees at microwave popcorn and food-flavoring factories. The study found evidence that the ingredient intensifies the damaging effects of an abnormal brain protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease, also known in medical literature as Alzheimer disease, is the most common form of dementia. There is no cure for the disease, which worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to death. Therefore discovering a link to this debilitating disease would be paramount.
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.
They found that DA has a structure that’s similar to a substance that makes beta-amyloid proteins. Too much amyloid that clumps together to form plaques are a tell-tale marker of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain. The researchers wanted to see whether DA would clump those proteins in a similar fashion to form plaques.
They found 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.
The study however did not show a cause and effect relationship between the chemical and Alzheimer’s, and the results haven’t been replicated in people, only in test tubes.
This study appears in ACS’ journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.
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