The research, which was carried out by the Karolinska Institute and was based on the food habits of 61,000 middle-aged women, appears to contradict starkly the findings of Sweden’s National Food Administration in 2002.
Their announcement that acrylamide, a substance created when carbohydrates are broken down at high temperatures, caused cancer, led to temporary panic in Sweden and abroad as people were advised to avoid everyday foods such as potato crisps, bread and coffee.
“Our findings are not exactly the opposite of the 2002 results, but they certainly don’t confirm the warnings,” said Professor Alicja Wolk, who led the research, to The Local.
“Our group consisted of middle-aged Swedish women, who are not big consumers of potato crisps – but this is good news for them,” she said.
Among the women questioned, fewer than 0.5% consumed what are considered to be high-risk quantities of acrylamide. But even amongst those individuals there were no cases of intestinal cancer.
Professor Wolk says that she was not surprised by the results.
“The 2002 research was based on giving animals very high doses of acrylamide. So I thought that with the consumption levels in our group there would be little or no risk,” she said.
The Karolinska study has followed the 61,000 women, who all live in the Uppsala and Västmanland regions, for 15 years. During that time, 741 were affected by rectal or colonic cancer. But the cancer was just as likely to develop in the women who had a low acrylamide intake as in those who consumed much larger quantities.
Professor Wolk pointed out that while her sample group may not be the greatest consumers of crisps, acrylamide can be found in a variety of other products.
“In fact, coffee is the number one source of acrylamide in the Swedish diet,” she told The Local.
But Professor Wolk said that the latest research does not rule out the possibility that very high levels of acrylamide could still be dangerous.
“We cannot conclude that people who eat a big bag of crisps every day do not run a greater risk,” she said.
However, the fact that those people tend to be young, combined with the slow development of cancer, means that it will be some time before there is conclusive evidence one way or the other.
“This is not the final word,” warned Professor Wolk.