'Popcorn Lung' Wins Man $7 Million: Is Too Much Popcorn Deadly?

By Amir Khan on September 20, 2012 10:21 AM EDT

Popcorn
A popcorn aficionado is collected a big paycheck after his love of the snack led to him developing respiratory problems known as "popcorn lung." He sued the manufacturer and is walking away with $7.2 million. (Photo: Creative Commons)

A popcorn aficionado is collected a big paycheck after his love of the snack led to him developing respiratory problems known as "popcorn lung." He sued the manufacturer and is walking away with $7.2 million.

Denver native Wayne Watson has eaten two bags of popcorn per day every day for the last 10 years, and it caused him to develop a respiratory condition, possibly from inhaling the chemical diacetyl (DA), which gives the popcorn a buttery flavor.

"I probably look like a fairly healthy guy but I only have, on a good day, about 53 percent lung capacity," Watson told ABC News.

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Symptoms of popcorn lung include dry cough, shortness of breath and wheezing.

Popcorn lung is not typically found in consumers. Instead, plan workers who are exposed to large doses of diacetyl are usually at risk. Watson sued Kroger, the grocery store that sold the product, Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. and Dillon Companies Inc. for his troubles, and was recently awared the $7.2 million verdict.

"They thought that no consumer would ever be exposed to enough of it to make a difference." Watson told ABC News. "Well they rolled the dice and they lose."

Not only can the diacetyl cause popcorn lung, the chemical was also recently linked to Alzheimer's disease. Diacetyl's structure is similar to a substance that makes amyloid clump in the brain -- a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

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 the Alzheimer'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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