Artificial Butter Linked To Alzheimer’s

Posted by on Aug 2, 2012 in A Piece of Cake- Blog | 2 comments

Artificial Butter Linked To Alzheimer’s

Disclaimer: Before you read this post, I want to ask you not to panic as you read the information. The people who should worry most are factory workers, cooks, bakers, and anyone exposed to the vapors frequently over a long period of time. With that said, I hope this article helps you make wiser decisions as you purchase ingredients and snacks!

How many times have you purchased microwavable popcorn, margarine, and butter flavored candy? How many times have you purchased a cake from a bakery, unaware that many bakers follow the Wilton buttercream recipe? Did you know that bakers use “no color butter flavor” to obtain a snow white buttercream to decorate cakes? I have many issues with that recipe, like the use of shortening, but the focus on today’s article is the artificial butter flavor.

A recent article in the Science Blog discussed the link between artificial butter and Alzheimer’s disease. The article mentions that the key ingredient in artificial butter is Diacetyl (DA), which is a natural byproduct of fermentation. Where do you find DA? In its natural state you will find it in beer, some wines (specifically Chardonnay), some oils, and of course butter! The FDA currently has DA listed as “Generally Recognized Safe For Consumption.”

You may be wondering why I’m discussing DA if it’s found naturally in real butter? The key word in that sentence is naturally. Generally, a naturally occuring chemical is relatively safer than its synthetic version. Hundres of brands of cooking oils, butter substitutes and sprays use diacetyl to enhance the buttery flavor.

From Science blog:

Robert Vince and colleagues Swati More and Ashish Vartak explain that DA has  been the focus of much research recently because it is linked to respiratory and  other problems in workers at microwave popcorn and food-flavoring factories.Vince’s team realized that DA has an architecture similar to a substance that  makes beta-amyloid proteins clump together in the brain — clumping being a  hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. So they tested whether DA also could clump  those proteins. DA did increase the level of beta-amyloid clumping. At real-world occupational  exposure levels, DA also enhanced beta-amyloid’s toxic effects on nerve cells  growing in the laboratory.  “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,” say the researchers.

In 2007, a study was commissioned by the Seattle P-I newspaper to compare different products and the concentration of diacetyl in each. The results were measured in parts-per-million (ppm), a standard unit of measurement to describe small values. (one part per million is 1 mg of substance in 1 liter of water) The results were as follows:

Two real butters were analyzed and diacetyl was found in a range of 7 ppm to almost 16 ppm.

In all the margarine and shortening products, levels of 7 ppm to almost 180 ppm were present.

A butter-flavored cooking spray released more than 164 ppm of diacetyl.

Butter-flavored cooking oils used by professional cooks ranged from 23 ppm to 234 ppm.

Two brands of oil for popping corn came in at 1,062 ppm and 1,125 ppm.

The study noted that the sweet butter had a higher level of diacetyl than its unsalted version. Mark Wustenberg from Tillamook Creamery explained that “diacetyl is added to all but salted butter throughout the industry.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to go through my kitchen and throw out anything and everything that has DA added as flavoring! It’s a good thing I already use pure butter in my baking!

I think as the food industry becomes more convoluted, the more we are going to embrace the old-school way of living- natural, fresh, organic, and pure!



  1. Yes I agree real butter (or everything that’s real) is the way to go. But I think the key here is the method of exposure, as you mentioned this is more of a concern for food production factory workers who are primarily exposed to it via in
    halation, yet even with that concern, proper ventilation may diminish the level of toxc exposure. For the remainder of the general population we really don’t get excessive vapor exposure. And if ingestion is your concern fear not, lol the majority of diacetyl is metabolized and excreted through the urine. So bottom line, my opinion is don’t be too quick to yell fire (I say that to the media) or throw away Fabio’s I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter out the window yet. Plus Alzheimer’s disease has many other determining factors such as genetic predisposition or at some point aluminum was hypothesized to cause it…

    – your Nutritonist

  2. True that! The media does tend to hype things up and loves to create havoc, but these studies do shine light on how the food industry has changed in the last few decades. So many products are laden with artificial flavorings, it’s no wonder people are battling obesity and more bodily illness than previous generations. Unless people step up and stop purchasing products that are comprised of crap and more crap, industry will continue doing what it’s doing. Actually, after these studies were written, a few big name chains started removing DA from their products (although I’m not sure if the substitute would be a better alternative, I haven’t really researched it). Yes, our bodies are amazing and are able to excrete DA through our urine, but why make your body go through all that effort and spend that metabolic energy on products that you shouldn’t be ingesting anyway? Maybe we should yell fire, that way people can change their habits and embrace a better life style, while occasionally indulging. As for the work force, I’m pretty sure OSHA got on top of this as soon as the studies were done. Of course it all depends on how well the workers follow safety regulations, but that’s a different topic. Long story short, I’m still getting rid of DA enhanced products 🙂

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