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CAN COOKIES CAUSE MYELOMA?

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This may sound like a skit from "Saturday Night Live," but unfortunately, the connection is real.  The first thing to emphasize is that, although it is real, further investigation is required before cookies are added to the "do not eat" list. 

The concern comes from a recent large study from the Netherlands, which tracked 120,822 people (a "cohort") since September 1986, and noted 363 patients with myeloma of whom 323 were evaluable for assessment of intake of a chemical called acrylamide, which is present in baked goods, such as cookies, and also French fries, potato chips, and coffee, plus in this study from the Netherlands, Dutch spiced cake (which is high in acrylamide). If you are already thinking about how much acrylamide is in your diet, I refer you to a nutrition-wise blog from the Mayo Clinic which details how to limit acrylamide in your diet. There was a significant correlation between the amount of acrylamide in the diet and the likelihood of developing myeloma for all men, as well as men who had never smoked. Smoking is a source of acrylamide and therefore, a potential so-called "confounding factor." So the correlation in non-smoking men is especially important.

This is a very large, long-term study from a prestigious group (of epidemiologists) at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Therefore, the results need to be carefully considered. However, it is also the first study with sufficient numbers to evaluate acrylamide intake in this fashion. The reason to go to such lengths to investigate acrylamide is that it is known to cause cancer. It is a class 2A carcinogen (IARC, Lyons France), which means that it definitely causes cancer in animals and, since the chemical breakdown is the same for people, most probably also in humans.

This disturbing finding needs further confirmation and investigation, but raises several important issues, the most pressing of which is:

Can what we eat or drink cause cancer?

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We are used to the idea that working in a factory with toxic chemicals or being exposed to toxic environmental chemicals can be dangerous. Using the accepted criteria of esteemed British epidemiologist Sir Bradford Hill, one can systematically assess if a particular chemical or process can be plausibly linked to a particular cancer. As pointed out in an article written by a myeloma patient, Hardy Jones, one must be ever vigilant about toxic exposures in the environment.

But, the potential for toxic chemicals in what we eat or drink is something new in our awareness and part of a mostly silent revolution over the past several decades. In a new book, "White Bread," Aaron Bobrow-Strain highlights the complex scientific as well as socioeconomic issues with highly processed foods. Supermarket white bread contains a number of chemicals including diammonium phosphate, which is used as a nutrient for yeast, but is also a flame retardant and fertilizer. A few other examples include the flavoring chemicals brought to attention in "Fast Food Nation"-- especially the amazing chemical that provides the special taste of McDonald's French fries. Another new book, "Tomatoland," which discusses the development of the "perfect tomato," also includes sobering examples of toxic exposure. And of course, there is the caramel flavoring in diet soft drinks linked to 4-methylimidazole (4-MI) and the BPA (bisphenol A) from plastic bottles.

So, the reality is that we need to be very aware of chemicals in food and drinks. Do they cause cancer? Does acrylamide in cookies or other products cause myeloma? This remains to be proven. But this is definitely a wakeup call. Watch what you eat. Check the labels. Fresh, local, and organic are preferred over processed, shipped, and farmed.

Stay tuned as I explore related issues in coming months. In the meantime here are some blogs I wrote about food and health issues before:

14 Comments

It seems there are just SO many carcinogens in nearly everything we put into our bodies that it is next to impossible to avoid them. Your bloging brings a new and stronger focus on some of the more potent ones, or at least on those emerging connections.

Thank you for keeping us up to date on what is going on out there. You bring a warm style and personal interest that is unfortunately rare in this day and age.

Well then, I guess our Myeloma Support Group meeting last Saturday was a "Myeloma" meeting in several ways: myeloma patients, myeloma caregivers, and myeloma snacks. OUCH! So much for the oatmeal and raisin cookies (picked for their low saturated and zero trans fats) and the granola bars, etc. I'll be checking out the snack table at the next Patient & Family Seminar I attend for ideas (hopefully not dried spinach chips and brown banana butter dip....)

I think that the "things that cause cancer" are going to eventually include everything. So you have to make judgments, I guess. BUT -- I think if you already have myeloma, I guess you can be okay eating cookies and baked goods. Sort of like Hep B -- you don't have to worry about getting Hepatitis B from contaminated seafood because you've already got it!

I have 4 cases of multiple myeloma in my family (2 still alive) and am curious about the environmental factors that exacerbate the cancer. Who doesn't love cookies?... Does this include homemade baked goods or just over processed sweets in general?

Could you describe how close the relationships are - in other words, how wide a circle of people. Also what chemical exposures they may have had. And does your family eat a great deal of fish,, especially large ones?

Is there a proven environmental/nutritional link with the occurrence of multiple myeloma? In my family, there have been 3 cases of MM, all women. The women all spent much time at an estate on Long Island, at St. James, NY to be exact. All three women are first or second generation American, and the family heritage is Sicilian.

Given the low likelihood of purely biological incidence, our family has been searching for potential environmental links.

I am happy that Brian initiated a discussion on the environmental influences towards the genesis of Myeloma and Cancer in general. A disturbing idea was lurking in me since 1980 related to Microwave Ovens and its connection if any with Myeloma. My initial knowledge about Microwave Oven dates back to 1977 in a small Indian Ghat House Restaurant in Leicester where I saw this wonderful machine which can heat up things in a few seconds and which was explained to me by the owner of the shop in his 40s behind whom the machine was perched on a table in that narrow and crowded shop. We two became friends soon and I even gave him some Kerala recepies to try among his mainly North Indian cousine. His business flourished but unfortunately he was diagnosed with Myeloma in 1980 and I was the one who did the diagnostic Bone Marrow and clinical work up in Leicester Royal Infirmary when he presented with Anaemia. By that time I too was having a couple of Microwave Ovens at our home; but after this scary incident I discouraged my wife from using them. I went back to India at the end of 1982 after my Haematology training and when I returned to England in 1984 I realized my friend has passed away with florid Myeloma. My resentment towards Microwave ovens continued and was again heightened when my GP colleague's 38 year old wife who was also a fan of Microwave Ovens developed Myeloma in 1992 and succumbed in the course of 2 years in spite of her being treated at the Haematology Centre in Leeds.Our personal Microwave Ovens were chucked out in our garrage and I discouraged my daughter in laws and friends from using Microwave ovens as my Nephew who works in a lab which measures radiation emission from equipments confirmed the high level of radiation from closed Microwave Ovens.
In 2005 I came across a relatively young lady who went into relapsed Myeloma following Autologous Stem Cell grafting preceded by chemotherapy and whose main 9am to 5pm job involved exposure to 15 Microwave ovens in a row. This was the time I contacted one of my colleagues in the UK Myeloma Trial Committee and expressed my negative views regarding Microwave Ovens.
However the present day fashion in India seems to be Induction Cookers which I am sure is going to harm the health of people in the next 5 or 10 years to come.It looks funny to me when I see televised programmes on Cancer awareness being sponsored by makers and distributors of Induction Cookers.
I appreciate Brian for bringing out these important messages which will be helpful to our younger generation at large.
Salim.

I have heard cautionary comments relating to microwaves for as long as I can remember. Are there any studies looking into whether or not these devises influence cancer in us?

OMG! Do I need to become a vegan to survive myeloma? Are there are studies showing that acrylamide can bring you out of remission?

reading this article is terrifying me, since my Mom was myeloma patient, and i do like drinking coffee and eating bread :( should I out from coffee ?
thanks

I must say, after induction therapy, grade 4 peripheral neuropathy, radiation, consolidation therapy, a autologous stem cell transplant, all of this has made me into an extremely fatigued and disconnected person from who I used to be. I am not going to let this MM, now tell me what I can eat. Eating what I want ( I do eat healthy) is one of the last nthings that brings me happiness and I am not going to let MM take that away from me PERIOD.

Thank you for all the discussion regarding toxins that we eat and the dangers of how we prepare our food. This was one of the discussions that took place at the last Myeloma support group meeting in Burlington, Vermont. At this meeting our special guest speaker was Robin Tuohy from The International Myeloma Foundation.

Since my husband was diagnosed with Lymphoma in March 2004 and died in November 2004, and I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in January 2010, I have often thought our cancer was caused mostly by environmental factors. We lived simply in the country with solar energy and consumed mostly organic foods, however there were several slate quarries nearby. Now I wonder.

How far back in our lives do we need to consider? How much does stress and grieving play as factors in developing cancer? Personally I know that the "what ifs" can drive me crazy. So I am grateful to my nurse's quiet response during the meeting when she said that what is important to remember is "moderation in all things". I do the best I can with what I've got. Quality of life is important to me.

I'm with you, George. I was diagnosed with MM 8 1/2 years ago, but never developed symptoms, thankfully. Last year, however, I developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and am now symptom-free after a regimen of chemo. Tests show I have both myeloma and lymphoma cells in my body, but as long as they don't cause symptoms, I'm happy. Being a chocoholic, I've been eating cookies and other sweets for 80 years -- along with other healthier foods, of course -- and don't intend to change my eating habits at the present time. At least until there is pretty conclusive evidence that this food or that beverage -- or a particular electrical device -- causes cancer, in the way that we have learned that smoking and exposure to nicotine causes cancer. Maintaining good health also involves doing things that give us pleasure and improve our sense of well-being. Balance is the key.

I can give up most of the foods mentioned in the Mayo Clinic diet but COFFEE! OMG ! I love coffee. I've been drinking it my whole life. Coffee is part of my culture. Could it be that it was coffee that caused my MM? I used to drink 3-4 cups a day. Now I drink 2.
Oh well maybe I'll switch from Italian dark roast to a lighter roast. My father who died at 97 drank gallons / day.

Bob Adamski

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