Biohit Oyj: The Finnish Food Safety Authority's poor understanding of acetaldehyde does not inspire confidence

HELSINKI, Finland, June 20, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Kimmo Peltonen, director of the research unit for chemicals and toxicology at the Finnish Food Safety Authority, was quoted in Taloussanomat (Finnish economical journal) on 13 June 2013 stating that there is no established causal link between food containing acetaldehyde and the incidence of cancer. In fact, acetaldehyde is one of the few carcinogenic substances to have been convincingly proven to have a causal link to the emergence of cancer in the upper digestive tract. (1,2)

Peltonen notes that the views of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on the carcinogenicity of acetaldehyde are limited to the acetaldehyde contained in alcohol, as well as the acetaldehyde that forms within the body due to the effects of alcohol. This is not just a view but rather is the result of an in-depth scientific study carried out by a high-level expert group. The declaration applies to alcoholic beverages (containing more than 2.8% ethanol) because the connection between alcohol consumption and cancer has been widely studied (3). However, several foods that are produced or preserved using lactic acid fermentation contain carcinogenic concentrations of acetaldehyde, as well as also significant concentrations of ethanol (4). Such food products have been shown to increase the risk of both oesophageal and gastric cancer (5,6). A recent study showed that patients with gastric Helicobacter pylori infections who eat excessive amounts of foods produced using lactic acid fermentation had a 27-fold higher risk of suffering from gastric cancer (7). The elevated cancer risk introduced by the presence of H. pylori infection was only 3-fold (7). The team of researchers therefore found that the risk of gastric cancer can be significantly reduced by changing dietary habits (7).

Food labelling is used to warn customers of ingredients that can cause allergic reactions (sulphites, nuts) or an upset stomach (lactose). H. pylori infection and low gastric acid levels are the main risk factors for gastric cancer (2,8). In Finland alone, more than 30% of the population suffer from one of the two (9). Both ailments are associated with intense local exposure to acetaldehyde (10,11). Therefore, people who suffer from these ailments want to know how they can avoid exposure to acetaldehyde.

Contrary to Peltonen's claims, the formation of acetaldehyde from ethanol within the digestive system has been very well studied. 0.5 per mil to 1.0 per mil of ethanol is sufficient to produce carcinogenic acetaldehyde levels in the digestive tract (1,12). Acetaldehyde accumulates in the digestive tract due to the action of bacteria and yeast. They are able to produce significant amounts of acetaldehyde locally, but, unlike the liver, they are unable to dispose of it themselves. (1,12)

Peltonen argues that no safe acetaldehyde limits have been defined and that it is practically impossible to determine such limits. German scientists have already determined the safe limit with the assistance of the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) guidelines on genotoxic and mutagenic substances, published in 2005 (13,14). Current scientific evidence shows that levels of carcinogenic acetaldehyde are easy to calculate in human studies.

Biohit Oyj is willing to work in partnership with EVIRA and EFSA in this area. It should be emphasised that the safe limits should only be a fraction of the risk limits, as the Finnish Food Agency is aware. The risk limit is the level of acetaldehyde exposure that is highly likely to cause cancer. The safe limit is the amount of acetaldehyde that people can be safely exposed to on a daily basis.

The Finnish Food Agency has been researching acetaldehyde levels in foodstuffs for many years. We look forward to the results, so that we can explore the methods used. According to Peltonen, almost all food products contain acetaldehyde. Fortunately, this is not the case. Most food contains neither free acetaldehyde nor ethanol because those form in production or preserving using lactic acid fermentation. The Finnish Food Safety Authority plans to make a recommendation on how many apples it is safe to eat in a day. This may not be the most important thing. The German studies mentioned above found only negligible concentrations of free acetaldehyde in apples and berries. We obtained similar results from our own studies. The highest concentration of acetaldehyde found in apples was only 7% of the highest recorded yoghurt acetaldehyde concentration.

Taloussanomat 13.6.2013 "Onko rahkassa liikaa syopaaineita? 'Markkinointiahan tuo on'" (in Finnish)

Mikko Salaspuro Semi Korpela
Emeritus professor CEO and President, Biohit Oyj
Research Unit on Acetaldehyde and Cancer,
Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Finland
Biohit Oyj Board member and Scientific advisor


1. Salaspuro M. Acetaldehyde as a common denominator and cumulative carcinogen in digestive tract cancers. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2009;44:912-25.

2. Salaspuro M. Acetaldehyde and gastric cancer. J Dig Dis. 2011;12:51-9.

3. Secretan B, Straif K, Baan R et al. A review of human carcinogens--part E: Tobacco, areca nut, alcohol, coal smoke, and salted fish. Lancet Oncol. 2009;10:1033-34.

4. Hui YH, Meunier-Goddik L, Hansen AS et al. Handbook of food and beverage fermentation technology. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc. 2004.

5. Islami F, Ren JS, Taylor PR et al. Pickled vegetables and the risk of oesophageal cancer: a meta-analysis. Br J Cancer. 2009;101:1641-47.

6. Ren J-S, Kamangar F, Forman D et al. Pickled food and risk of gastric cancer - a systematic review and meta-analysis of English and Chinese literature. Cancer Epidemiol Biomerkers Prev. 2012;21:905-15.

7. Wang X-Q, Yan H, Terry PD et al. Interaction between dietary factors and Helicobacter pylori infection in noncardia gastric cancer: A population-based case-control study in China. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012;31:375-84.

8. Agreus L, Kuipers EJ, Kupcinskas L et al. Rationale in diagnosis and screening of atrophic gastritis with stomach specific plasma biomarkers. Scand J Gastroenterol 2012;47:136-47.

9. Sipponen P, Kekki M, Haapakoski J et al. Gastric cancer risk in chronic atrophic gastritis: statistical calculations of cross-sectional data. Int J Cancer. 1985;35:173-77.

10. Salmela KS, Roine RP, Hook-Nikanne J et al. Acetaldehyde and ethanol production by Helicobacter pylori. Scand J Gastroenterol. 1994;29:309-12.

11. Vakevainen S, Mentula S, Nuutinen H et al. M, et al.Ethanol-derived microbial production of carcinogenic acetaldehyde in achlorhydric atrophic gastritis. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2002;37:648-55.

12. Homann N, Jousimies-Somer H, Jokelainen K et al. High acetaldehyde levels in saliva after ethanol consumption: Methodological aspects and pathogenetic implications. Carcinogenesis. 1997;18:1739-43.

13. Uebelacker M, Lachenmeier DW. Quantitative determination of acetaldehyde in foods using automated digestion with simulated gastric fluid followed by headspace gas chromatography. J Autom Methods Manag Chem. 2011;2011:907317

14. Opinion of the scientific committee on a request from EWFSA related to a harmonised approach for risk assessment of substances which are both genotxic and carcinogenic. EFSA J. 2005;282:1-31.

Biohit in brief

Biohit Oyj is a globally operating Finnish biotechnology company established in 1988. Biohit's mission is "Innovating for Health". The purpose of the company is to take social responsibility and produce innovation, new technologies and analysis systems for use in medicine, research institutions and industry, helping to promote research and diagnostics and to improve people's quality of life by preventing disease, human suffering and financial loss. We are committed to social responsibility and it is our duty to spread knowledge about the Group I human carcinogen, acetaldehyde, and innovate and develop the marketing and availability of our products and services. Biohit is headquartered in Helsinki and its subsidiaries are located in China, Italy and the United Kingdom. Since 1999, Biohit's Series B shares (BIOBV) have been listed in the NASDAQ OMX Helsinki Oy Small cap/Healthcare sector. .

Acetaldehyde Group I human carcinogen

In October 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which forms part of the World Health Organization, classified acetaldehyde included in and generated endogenously from alcoholic beverages as a Group I human carcinogen. Acetaldehyde belongs to the same risk class as, for example, asbestos and tobacco.
Source: IARC, Secretan et al (2009)

CONTACT: CEO Semi Korpela, Biohit Oyj Tel. +358 9 773 86 333 www.biohithealthcare.comSource:Biohit Oyj