Foods such as French fries and potato chips have been linked to genome mutations that could lead to cancer, according to the results of new study published in the journal “Genome Research.”

That’s because just like tobacco smoke, they all contain the chemical acrylamide, which becomes the substance glycidamide when metabolized. Both have been found to be carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, in animals.

In the study, which was led by the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) Molecular Mechanisms and Biomarkers Group, researchers describe acrylamide as a “probable human carcinogen.”

“The potential role of acrylamide in cancer has been under scrutiny for some time, although actual exposure to acrylamide has been challenging to measure in epidemiological studies,” Dr. Marc Gunter, who heads the IARC’s Section of Nutrition and Metabolism, explained in a press release.

“This new study provides intriguing evidence that acrylamide can cause specific mutations in humans that may lead to cancer development.”


According to Health Canada, acrylamide is not intentionally added to food, but “is a chemical that naturally forms in certain foods, particularly plant-based foods that are rich in carbohydrates and low in protein, during processing or cooking at high temperatures” for extended periods.

Health Canada research has shown that the highest levels of acrylamide is found in foods such as French fries and potato chips. The chemical is also present in lower levels in items such as “cookies, breakfast cereals, bread, as well as other foods that are also processed at high temperatures such as coffee, roasted almonds, and grain-based coffee substitutes.” It is also present in tobacco smoke.


In their study, IARC researchers found glycidamide-linked “mutational signatures” in 30 per cent of the roughly 1,600 different types of tumours they analyzed. That wide range of tumours included cancers of the liver, kidney, bile duct, colon and uterus from dietary and occupational acrylamide exposure as well as smoking-related cancers involving the lungs, head, neck and liver.

The study, senior author and IARC scientist Dr. Jiri Zavadil said in a press release, “provides important mechanistic evidence that a commonplace dietary and lifestyle agent can produce highly characteristic DNA damage, thereby potentially contributing to the development of cancer.”

The study concludes by urging further investigations into the potential links between acrylamide and cancer.

“Such future investigations may ultimately provide a robust rationale for reducing the exposure to acrylamide in the general population,” Zavadil said.