Carcinogens from cooking! Resistance is not futile.

“Hello Don: I take a tablespoon of fish oil each day, I want to add 1 tablespoon of flax oil but I am concerned about the studies that suggest flax oil is not good for the male prostate, the reason I want to use flax oil is its supposed to help with the bad acrylamides that come from eating meat, would you feel safe with a tablespoon of flax oil a day. . . . Peter”

This question is an interesting one because it is an excellent example of misinformation and misdirected concerns.

First, “acrylamides” do not “come from eating meat.” Acrylamides result from the combination of high temperature, certain simple carbohydrates, and an amino acid, asparagine. Thus, the most common foods typically associated with risk of acrylamide formation are potato chips and French fries. So to avoid acrylamides in food, avoid carbohydrate-rich foods that are cooked at high temperature. Another source is cigarette smoke.

The person asking the question was probably concerned about substances such as nitrates, nitrites, heterocyclic amines, etc that are sources of concern as potential carcinogens in cooked and processed meat.

Is this a cause of concern, in either case? Yes and no. As researchers looked into this, the list of potential carcinogens and mutagens started to grow, with no end in sight. The list of substances that showed potential toxicity in animal studies became longer and longer.

So what do we do? I think the answer is that we have to use a little common sense. We have been cooking our food ever since our cave-man ancestors discovered fire. We have been eating charred polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-rich meat on toasted acrylamide rich-sesame seed buns ever since Nathan the Neanderthal set up his first trail-side dino-burger joint.

Moderation may be the key. You could eat only raw meat, and cut the crust off your bread, but there is no end to finding substances that are potentially bad for you. Instead, using this information, modify your diet and eating preferences to minimize these less healthy foods, and less healthy methods of food preparation. Increase your intake of healthier foods.

“The effects of many of these toxins can be mitigated through the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Foods high in antioxidants like garlic, green tea, berries, and cruciferous vegetables should be eaten daily. A large percentage of the diet should be fresh fruits, vegetables, and boiled or steamed grains . . . Fried and baked foods should be avoided or minimized. Since dry cereal can have a high acrylamide content, oatmeal or other boiled hot cereal is a healthier substitute. Steaming foods is preferable to baking, frying or broiling. When eating baked breads, removing the crusts will minimize the acrylamide content. Avoidance of heated or cooked nuts, seeds and unsaturated oils (especially those high in omega-3 like flax and walnuts) is highly recommended. If oil is necessary when cooking, coconut oil, a stable, saturated oil with added health benefits, is a better choice. Oils should be packaged in dark glass and be within their expiration date. In addition, olive oils that list a high phenolic content can help prevent LDL oxidation.”(1)

This leads to the second part of the question, concerning the proposed use of flax seed oil to, apparently, counter or protect against carcinogens such as acrylamides. Peter is concerned, however, that flaxseed oil “is not good for the male prostate.” This may be another example of a little knowledge gone awry. There indeed is some controversy over the role that flax seed oil may play in prostate cancer. Some evidence suggests it is helpful, and other evidence suggests it might not be. Here is the summary offered by one source: “Use cautiously in patients with prostate cancer. Due to some conflicting reports associating alpha-linolenic acid intake with the development of prostate cancer, there was a tendency to avoid flax in prostate cancer in the past. Recent reports show the opposite with promising results on the benefits of flaxseed use.”(2) On the other hand, omega-3 rich oils have been shown to be beneficial to other types of prostate conditions (benign prostatic hypertrophy, prostatitis). So Peter’s concern may be valid to some extent if he is worried about prostate cancer, but not valid if his concern is BPH.

More to the point, however, is this question: What does flax seed oil have to do with acrylamide, or other carcinogens? And, if you are concerned about food-derived toxins and carcinogens, why choose a food/supplement that is one of the most highly poly-unsaturated oils you can get? Flax seed oil is very easily oxidized, with a very short shelf life. It is not a supplement for use by someone worried about toxins in food.

That leads up to the final question. Is there something one can do, other than avoidance of cooked food, bread crust, potato chips and fries. The answer is yes.

Supplement with anti-oxidants, especially “whole food” or phyto antioxidants. I take 1-2 Antiox Phyto Complex capsules with each meal. This supplement, from Willner Chemists, contains a blend of several plant derived phyto-antioxidants–Acai Berry, Mangosteen , Goji, Pomegranate, Green Tea, Grape Skin and Grape Seed. (Product Code: 57091) I also use the companion product, Antiox Phyto Blend, which is a liquid version of the same thing. I place two dropper fulls in my water bottle. I squirt a dropper full into my margarita at dinner time, etc. (Product Code: 57551).

Take supplements that support liver function. The liver has a wide range of functions, including detoxification. This is an important part of our body’s mechanism for protecting against environmental and dietary toxins. Individual supplements–artichoke extract, milk thistle extract, curcumin, and alpha-lipoic acid are very important.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, for example, concluded that “consumption of curcumin may be a plausible way to prevent acrylamide-mediated genotoxicity.”(3)

Many supplement companies have combination products designed to enhance and protect liver function. Jarrow Formulas has a product called Liver PF (Product Code: 52813). Willner Chemists has a product called Liver Support (Product Code: 56948 and Product Code: 56971 for the liquid drops), and Liver Support Capsules (Product Code: 57048). Solgar has a nice herbal blend, Herbal Liver Complex, in Vegetable Capsules (Product Code: 28289). Doctor’s Best has a good Curcumin product called Best Curcumin C3 Complex Tablets (Product Code: 56393) and Willner Chemists has a liquid curcumin, Phyto-Tech Turmeric Root 1:1.5 (Product Code: 57016). Doctor’s Best also has the Meriva Curcumin Phytosome complex (Product Code: 58527).

Antioxidant Optimizer, from Jarrow Formulas, contains a nice blend of phyto-antioxidants and liver protectant herbs in one combination formula (Product Code: 23113).

While on the subject of detoxification, if you are concerned about heavy metal contamination, several companies have products for this purpose, including Jarrow Formulas’ Heavy Metal Detox, which contains a PectaSol Chelation Complex (Product Code: 52692).

In summary, it is important that we recognize the dangers of toxins generated in cooked foods. It is also important, however, that we keep this in proper perspective. Total elimination of these toxins is probably not necessary, but prudent reduction in exposure is indeed called for. Moderation is the key. Along with modification of our food and cooking choices, nutritional supplementation is an effective measure as well.

Don Goldberg,


(1) Reeve, Wendy, MS. Focus On Health, Vol 34, No. 1

(2) Natural Standards

(3) “Curcumin Attenuates Acrylamide-Induced Cytotoxicity and Genotoxicity in HepG2 Cells by ROS Scavenging” J. Cao, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

According to this study from China. Curcumin, the natural pigment that gives the spice turmeric its yellow colour, may reduce the potential detrimental effects of acrylamide. The compound curcumin may exert an antioxidant effect and prevent the cytotoxic and genotoxic effects of acrylamide, according to findings of a cell study with human cells.

“Consumption of curcumin may be a plausible way to prevent acrylamide-mediated genotoxicity,” wrote lead author Jun Cao from Dalian Medical University.

Acrylamide is a potential carcinogen that is created when starchy foods are baked, roasted, fried or toasted. It first hit the headlines in 2002, when scientists at the Swedish Food Administration first reported unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide, found to cause cancer in laboratory rats, in carbohydrate-rich foods. Despite being a carcinogen in the laboratory, however, many epidemiological studies have reported that everyday exposure to acrylamide in food is too low to be of concern.

Commenting on the mechanism of action, the researchers noted that it was probably due to the antioxidant effects of curcumin.

Previous research from China has reported that extracts of green tea and bamboo leaf may also reduce acrylamide formation in foods. Researchers from Zhejiang University’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition reported that extracts from bamboo leaves and green tea could reduce the formation of acrylamide by 74.4 per cent and 74.3 per cent, respectively, when used at a level of 0.1 micrograms.

About Don Goldberg

Hello. I am what you might call a Nutritional Pharmacist. After college, I worked in the Pharmaceutical and Nutritional Industry, first in Quality Control, and then in Manufacturing and Product Development. Increasingly, as the years passed, I became more involved with nutritional supplements. I spent many years detailing physicians, herbalists, and homeopaths about nutritional and herbal therapies and products. In 1992, along with my friend Arnie Gitomer, I bought Willner Chemists, a well-established nutritionally oriented pharmacy. For the first time, I had an opportunity to communicate directly with the consumer, the patient, and the customer. I love it. This blog is an additional way for me to extend my personal views and opinions directly to you. I also used to be on the radio, every Sunday, from 2 to 4 pm on WOR radio in NY (710 AM). You can listen to, or read excerpts from those shows on our website,
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1 Response to Carcinogens from cooking! Resistance is not futile.

  1. Walker says:

    I relish, cause I discovered exactly what I was having a look for.
    You have ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day.

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