Diacetyl ‘Butter Flavoring’ Exposure Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease Process

A new study suggests that exposure to diacetyl, a chemical that was once used to give popcorn its buttery smell, may be associated with a certain brain protein process that is a potential indicator for Alzeimer’s disease. 

In the medical journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, researchers report that diacetyl exposure can cause a harmfull effect where proteins in the brain clump together, which has been linked Alzheimer’s disease.

As a result of the high levels of diacetyl exposure found among microwave popcorn factory workers and those who work in flavoring plants, researchers indicate that the findings raise concerns about the long-term neurological toxicity that they may face.

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Scientists examined diacetyl (DA) and found that it can increase the rate of amyloid-B aggregation. As this clumping occurs, it eventually becomes insoluble sheet structures in the brain that can lead to the memory disorder. The researchers found that not only did DA pass through the blood-brain barrier, but it was also resistant toward treatments used to prevent amyloid-B aggregation.

Diacetyl has largely been abandoned for the manufacture of microwave popcorn, after exposure to the chemical was linked to a lung disorder known as bronchiolitis obliterans, which is more commonly known as popcorn lung because it is usually found among microwave popcorn factory workers or individuals who consumed a lot of butter flavored microwave popcorn. However, the researchers noted that the chemical is still “ubiquitous” in the food additive industry where it has a multitude of uses.

Popcorn lung disease is characterized by the scarring and inflammation of small airways, known as bronchioles, which leads to diminished lung capacity and breathing problems. The disease is irreversible and severe cases may require lung transplants and can lead to death.

More than 300 popcorn lung disease lawsuits have been filed nationwide, with most of those coming from employees of popcorn manufacturers who allege they were not warned about the dangers of diacetyl exposure. However, a growing number of popcorn consumers have been diagnosed with the disease and have filed lawsuits against companies that manufactured or used the flavoring.


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