Genotoxicity of heat-processed foods

Mutat Res. 2005 Jul 1;574(1-2):156-72. doi: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2005.01.030. Epub 2005 Apr 1.


Gene-environment interactions include exposure to genotoxic compounds from our diet and it is no doubt, that humans are regularly exposed to e.g. food toxicants, not least from cooked foods. This paper reviews briefly four classes of cooked food toxicants, e.g. acrylamide, heterocyclic amines, nitrosamines and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. Many of these compounds have been recognised for decades also as environmental pollutants. In addition cigarette smokers and some occupational workers are exposed to them. Their occurrence, formation, metabolic activation, genotoxicity and human cancer risk are briefly presented along with figures on estimated exposure. Several lines of evidence indicate that cooking conditions and dietary habits can contribute to human cancer risk through the ingestion of genotoxic compounds from heat-processed foods. Such compounds cause different types of DNA damage: nucleotide alterations and gross chromosomal aberrations. Most genotoxic compounds begin their action at the DNA level by forming carcinogen-DNA adducts, which result from the covalent binding of a carcinogen or part of a carcinogen to a nucleotide. The genotoxic and carcinogenic potential of these cooked food toxicants have been evaluated regularly by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which has come to the conclusion that several of these food-borne toxicants present in cooked foods are possibly (2A) or probably (2B) carcinogenic to humans, based on both high-dose, long-term animal studies and in vitro and in vivo genotoxicity tests. Yet, there is insufficient scientific evidence that these genotoxic compounds really cause human cancer, and no limits have been set for their presence in cooked foods. However, the competent authorities in most Western countries recommend minimising their occurrence, therefore this aspect is also included in this review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acrylamide / toxicity
  • Amines / toxicity
  • Carcinogens*
  • DNA Damage
  • Food*
  • Heterocyclic Compounds / toxicity
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Mutagens*
  • Nitroso Compounds / toxicity
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity


  • Amines
  • Carcinogens
  • Heterocyclic Compounds
  • Mutagens
  • Nitroso Compounds
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Acrylamide