I can’t believe it’s not healthy!

If you have an explanation for artificial flowers other than cost, we’d like to hear it. Yes, there may be a convenience factor to the artificial form but they can never capture the subtle posture, aroma, and presence of fresh flowers. Yet human beings have a tendency to like making artificial forms of things, perhaps it make us feel masters of our domain? It is a tendency that extends to food; take artificial butter flavouring for instance (please, take it, I don’t want it). This widely used artificial flavour seeks to emulate butter without any particular success in this writer’s opinion and now new research has confirmed that it might have some negative effects on the brain.

Artificial butter flavour is used in a range of products including popcorn, some margarines, snack foods, sweets, and baked goods. The new research has focused around an ingredient in artificial butter flavour called diacetyl which also forms naturally in fermented beverages like beer and it gives some chardonnay wines a “buttery” taste.

In recent times diacetyl has been the subject of much attention since it has been linked to respiratory problems in workers at microwave popcorn and food flavouring factories. These researchers however, noted that diacetyl has a structure similar to a substance that makes beta-amyloid protein clump together as happens in Alzheimer’s Disease. So they tested whether diacetyl would also make the proteins clump together.

The results showed that diacetyl did make the amyloid proteins clump together and also had a toxic effect on nerve cells. It did this at levels equivalent to what workers working with artificial butter flavour would be exposed to. Other research has also shown that diacetyl crosses from the blood stream into the brain (crossing the blood-brain barrier) and that it stops a protein from glyoxylase I from protecting nerve cells.

Add it all up and there is a real possibility that workers involved with artificial butter flavours and diacetyl could experience long-term neurological damage. Gee, could it be that natural is the best way to go?

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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