Margarine additive linked with Alzheimer’s disease

I learned today that if you want to give a highly-processed, chemicalised, crappy gloop (margarine) a flavour that at approximates to that of butter (a food), then you can add something known as diacetyl. Apparently, this chemical has previously been linked to lung disorders and other health problems in individuals who work in factories where diacetyl is used as an ingredient. Now, new research suggests a link with Alzheimer’s disease.

In a recent study [1], researchers from the University of Minnesota found that diacetyl has at least some capacity in the test tube to promote clumping of a protein known as beta-amyloid, deposition of which in the brain is a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s disease. Experiments also show that diacetyl can increase the toxic effect beta-amyloid has in the brain, which further points a figure of suspicion towards it as a promoter of Alzheimer’s disease.

The University of Minnesota also produced evidence that diacetyl has the capacity to penetrate the ‘blood-brain barrier’ – effectively meaning that this compound can gain access to the brain, where it then may wreak whatever damage it has capacity for.

The authors of this study are concerned that those who work in facilities where diacetyl is used might be at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease because of occupational exposure to this potential toxin. It seems like a legitimate concern. I don’t want to make light of workers’ plight, here, but what about the millions and millions of people who are exposed to diacetyl in the margarine they eat, or perhaps other foods including microwave popcorn, confectionery and snack foods?

We really have no idea what the risks of consuming dietary diacetyl, but by avoiding foods which contain it, we’re also likely to avoid many other potentially problematic substances and metabolic effects too. Plus, of course, we up our chances of eating real food, with all the nourishment that brings. For those looking for something to impart a buttery taste to their food, my advice is to try butter.


1. More SS, et al. The Butter Flavorant, Diacetyl, Exacerbates β-Amyloid Cytotoxicity. Chemical Research in Toxicology, Published on-line 25 June 2012

9 Responses to Margarine additive linked with Alzheimer’s disease

  1. Fiona 3 August 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    Is diacetyl a recent additive to margarine or was it there during the war and post-war days
    when everyone had to use it as a replacement for scarce butter? Is this a possible cause of
    the number of Alzheimer’s cases there is in those who lived through those years?

  2. andrzej 3 August 2012 at 6:59 pm #

    After scurrying to my fridge I cannot find Diacetyl listed in the ingredients of my spread, but would it be listed as something else?
    Also I recall from the TV prog QI that NO Margarine (as distinct from spreads) has been sold in the UK for many years. Is Diacetyl in both?

  3. Angela 3 August 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    Andrzej, my assumption would always be that ‘spread’ was a fancy word for a variant form of margarine; slightly different chemical formulation but still essentially what John describes: a highly processed, chemicalised, crappy gloop! The supposed difference between the two, according to the European Union, is in the percentage of milk fat something calling itself ‘margarine’ is entittled to have…

  4. Marcy 3 August 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    I just looked this up and I found this from Wikipedia, “In some styles of beer (e.g. in most beers produced in the British Isles, such as English pale ales), the presence of diacetyl can be acceptable or desirable at low or, in some cases, moderate levels.” I don’t drink beer, mostly because of the carbs, but my husband does. He does drink only the dark beers though, so I don’t think this applies.

  5. Park 6 August 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    I started taking an interest in nutrition when margarines began to replace butter. Too bad we didn’t have the internet back then. I could have dismissed this malarkey in a heartbeat, but I still feel like such a fool for having been duped for so long.

  6. Sherry 10 August 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    Just out of interest,I emailed the makers of “Can`t Believe it`s Not…”( Unilever). They stated that diacetyl was not one of their spreads` ingredients. Still better, as you say, to eat butter.

  7. paul 11 October 2012 at 6:10 am #

    they are saying the beer and other product are an issue also they dont list that on teh cheese or butter wrappers its listed as proceeeds something else and u have to look up there list for that product they made it almost impossable to avoid other then eat only nature foods google it and look at teh wiki info its scary why do we need fake stuff to take liek the real stuff when the real stuff is better for you

  8. paul 11 October 2012 at 6:13 am #

    A new study raises concern about chronic exposure of workers in industry to a food flavoring ingredient used to produce the distinctive buttery flavor and aroma of microwave popcorn, margarines, snack foods, candy, baked goods, pet foods and other products. It found evidence that the ingredient, diacetyl (DA), intensifies the damaging effects of an abnormal brain protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Image adapted from an image shared on Wikimedia Commons by F.Cecconi. License: CC-BY-SA-3.0


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