Margarine additive linked with Alzheimer’s disease

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I learned today that if you want to give a highly-processed, chemicalised, crappy gloop (margarine) a flavour that at approximates to that of butter (a food), then you can add something known as diacetyl. Apparently, this chemical has previously been linked to lung disorders and other health problems in individuals who work in factories where diacetyl is used as an ingredient. Now, new research suggests a link with Alzheimer’s disease.

In a recent study [1], researchers from the University of Minnesota found that diacetyl has at least some capacity in the test tube to promote clumping of a protein known as beta-amyloid, deposition of which in the brain is a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s disease. Experiments also show that diacetyl can increase the toxic effect beta-amyloid has in the brain, which further points a figure of suspicion towards it as a promoter of Alzheimer’s disease.

The University of Minnesota also produced evidence that diacetyl has the capacity to penetrate the ‘blood-brain barrier’ – effectively meaning that this compound can gain access to the brain, where it then may wreak whatever damage it has capacity for.

The authors of this study are concerned that those who work in facilities where diacetyl is used might be at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease because of occupational exposure to this potential toxin. It seems like a legitimate concern. I don’t want to make light of workers’ plight, here, but what about the millions and millions of people who are exposed to diacetyl in the margarine they eat, or perhaps other foods including microwave popcorn, confectionery and snack foods?

We really have no idea what the risks of consuming dietary diacetyl, but by avoiding foods which contain it, we’re also likely to avoid many other potentially problematic substances and metabolic effects too. Plus, of course, we up our chances of eating real food, with all the nourishment that brings. For those looking for something to impart a buttery taste to their food, my advice is to try butter.


1. More SS, et al. The Butter Flavorant, Diacetyl, Exacerbates β-Amyloid Cytotoxicity. Chemical Research in Toxicology, Published on-line 25 June 2012

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