All that fake butter on your popcorn at the theater may be delicious, but it might make you forget the movie later on. That flavoring most likely comes from diacetyl (DA), a chemical that gives a buttery taste to popcorns, margarines and baked goods. Diacetyl also forms naturally in the fermentation process of beer and wine. A recent study shows that diacetyl can aggravate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimers disease afflicts approximately 10% to 15% of individuals over the age of 65. Those with a family history of Alzheimer's are already at risk for developing the disease; however, many lifestyle choices have been attributed to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's. Some notable ones include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Its progression has been linked to a disturbance of prooxidant-antioxidant balance in the brain, which can be exacerbated by poor nutrition and various toxic chemicals.
Alzheimer’s has been linked to the buildup of damaging proteins in the human brain. The two damaging proteins include beta amyloid and tau protein. Researchers from the Center for Drug Design at the University of Minnesota linked diacetyl with an increase in the clumping of beta amyloid protein. The flavorful chemical apparently worsens the protein’s effects on the brain.
The beta amyloid proteins build up on the outside of the cells in your brain (called neurons), and form “senile plaques” or “neuritic plaques,” which can disrupt the multitude of connections made in your brain. Another neurological culprit, tau protein, instead, forms “neurofibrillary tangles” (NFTs) inside those neurons and cause damage from within.
The researchers applied the chemical on several types of cells. They observed damaging changes in the level and types of beta amyloid proteins that can aggravate Alzheimer’s. They also discovered that diacetyl may potentially slow down the brain’s ability to detoxify itself by inhibiting an enzyme in charge of reversing the effects of oxidative stress. However, they also interestingly found out that certain drugs like thiobarbituric acid or penicillamine decrease the effects of diacetyl, but its use in persons to prevent Alzheimer's has not been established.
Diacetyl has also been blamed for causing a permanent lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, in chronically exposed factory workers. This study further adds to the list of damaging effects this flavor chemical has on the body.
Instead of fake butter, you may want to try whipped butter, which has half the fat and calories as regular butter. You can also try olive oil, which is one of Dr. Oz’s anti-aging superfoods. With these foods, you can still fight fat, but more importantly, you'll know more about what's going into your body.