Talk of diacetyl has risen in recent years, especially after eight workers at a popcorn plant were diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans after prolonged exposure in the early 2000s. For this reason, the disease is also referred to as “popcorn lung“.
Bronchiolitis obliterans is a serious lung disease in which the smallest airways of the lungs become permanently blocked by excess scar tissue. It is often misdiagnosed as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema or even pneumonia because the symptoms are similar, with the patient experiencing a persistent cough, wheezing, shortness of breath and fatigue. The only treatment for bronchiolitis obliterans is a lung transplant.
Diacetyl (DA) is used for artificial flavoring in foods such as popcorn, flavored coffee, baking products, and oil sprays to give a smooth, buttery flavor. It can also be found in e-cigarette liquids.
E-cigarette manufacturers came under scrutiny when 75 percent of the e-cigarette flavorings tested for the chemical were found to contain diacetyl. Diacetyl in an e-cigarette may pose an elevated risk of hazardous exposure because the chemical is heated before inhaled.
Now a study has now linked the chemical to Alzheimer’s disease. According to the study, consumption of foods containing diacetyl may contribute to beta-amyloid protein buildup on the brain. This is a direct link to Alzheimer’s.
“In light of the chronic exposure of industry workers to DA, this study raises the troubling possibility of long-term neurological toxicity mediated by DA,” the study states.
Lawsuits aimed at flavoring manufacturers that make diacetyl are on the rise due to its heavy links to serious lung diseases such as bronchiolitis obliterans.