Can Artificial Butter Cause Alzheimer’s?

By Amir Khan on August 2, 2012 11:24 AM EDT

Popcorn
A new study is raising concerns over whether exposure to an artificial butter flavoring can cause Alzheimer's disease. (Photo: Creative Commons)

A new study is raising concerns over whether exposure to an artificial butter flavoring can cause Alzheimer's disease. But moviegoers and late-night snackers don't need to worry -- researchers looked at factory workers who are exposed to much larger doses than the average person. The results were published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.

The chemical in question, diacetyl (DA), is used to give microwave popcorn its buttery taste. It is also found naturally in beer and chardonnay wine. However, it's structure is similar to that of the substance that makes amyloid protein clump in the brain -- a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

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Researchers decided to investigate DA could cause amyloid to clump, and found not only that it could, but that it also enhanced the toxic effect amyloid has on 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," the researchers wrote.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in the United States, affecting more than 5 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of people who suffer from the disease is expected to double every 20 years as population increases and people live longer

Symptoms of Alzheimer's include memory loss, confusion, difficulty completing familiar tasks, decreased judgment and problems speaking or writing.

Healthcare costs related to Alzheimer's disease totaled almost $8 billion in 2010, according to theAlzheimer's Association, a nonprofit organization that advocates for Alzheimer's patients in the federal and state governments.

There is as yet no cure or successful treatment for Alzheimer's disease. The Obama administration set a goal of 2025 to find an effective treatment and pledged to spend an additional $50 million on dementia research on top of the $450 million the government spends annually until a treatment is found.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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