Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: toxicity and death

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: toxicity and death


Hydrocarbons are binary organic molecules, i.e. composed of two types of atoms: carbon (C) and hydrogen (H). Hydrocarbons can be short or long and the simplest (having only one carbon atom) is also one of the best known: methane ( CH 4 ).
Hydrocarbons can be solid, liquid or gaseous, and from a chemical point of view they are divided into AROMATIC ( BENZENE or POLYNUCLEAR, all stable thanks to a benzene ring) and ALIPHATIC (in turn SATURATED or UNSATURATED).
N.B. _ Aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons also possess very different physical characteristics and reactivity. The well-known toxicityof hydrocarbons refers above all to AROMATIC compounds, and in particular to POLYNUCLEAR compounds, i.e. containing two or more BENZENE aromatic rings.




Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs or PAHs) are compounds naturally present in oil or coal , and from which they can be produced due to incomplete combustion of other molecules (see air pollution).
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are extremely toxic molecules both for humans and for environmental fauna and flora; some of them have always been almost ubiquitous (naphthalene and fluorene)… while others, unfortunately, are becoming so (benzoEpyrene and benzoApyrene present in asphalt, bitumen and tar ) .
In addition to fossil fuels, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can also be released by the combustion of other substrates; among these: waste, tobacco, incense, WOOD, CHARCOAL and FATS . With regard to the last three, we recall that these are products largely involved in the manufacturing and cooking processes of food .
Put simply, the human body (and each of us take responsibility for it!) comes into contact with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons through various sources:

  • the combustion of fuel and wood, urbanization, waste disposal, smoking
  • but also through feeding with: raw materials contaminated at an environmental level (from the air, the soil and ground water), CARBONIZED FOODS, GRILLED FOODS , VIOLENTLY COOKED FOODS and SMOKED FOODS .


Mechanism of toxicity

The toxicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons derives both from direct contact and from its liver metabolites, better called EPOXIES . These compounds, characterized by their mutagenic potential towards DNA , are capable of damaging the genetic-cellular replication message; ultimately, continuous exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can lead to MUTAGENESIS, therefore CARCINOGENSIS , a process highly correlated to DEATH.


Dying from ingestion of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in food

Although the two most carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are above all benzoEpyrene and benzoApyrene (present in asphalt, bitumen and tar), even those present in food significantly affect the state of health of the organism. To avoid introducing them in large quantities through food, there are few and decidedly simple precautions to follow:

  1. Consume smoked foods only occasionally; smoking , although it is a renowned process and even more onerous than many others, determines the superficial absorption of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in foods . It can be deduced that: fish and smoked derivatives ( salmon , herring , bottarga , etc.), meat and smoked derivatives (above all cured meats ), smoked cheeses (such as the famous caciotta or even Sicilian baked ricotta ) etc., as foods treated with smoking, should be considered at least “obsolete” foods and consumed as such.
  2. Minimize grilling ; without repeating what has already been explained in the paragraphs above, as with smoking, cooking with live embers (both wood and coal) involves the adhesion of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons on the surface of the food. For more information, read the article on the rules to be respected for healthy grilling

N.B. _ We remind you that choosing to burn particular types of wood (such as pruning fruit trees ) can determine the passage of other very harmful molecules from the fuel to the food; this is the case of lead residues (paints), solvents and wood impregnating agents (copper and insulators) or residues of pesticide treatments (at best copper and sulfur).

  1. In all violent cooking , avoid frying the fat beyond the smoke point as it would represent an additional source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
  2. Avoid at all costs consuming foods of dubious origin, therefore potentially polluted and, in any case, always CAREFULLY wash fruit and vegetables to effectively drain the residues of environmental polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

In the culinary tradition of many regions, live embers represent the basic method for cooking food; although (fortunately) it is a technique in gradual decline, to date there are still realities still strongly attached to this kind of habit.
Grilling, excessive frying , smoking and the use of dirty or polluted products inexorably favor the body’s exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; both clinical studies (on the carcinogenic potential) and statistical studies (on the consumption of products containing these molecules) have already demonstrated the correlation between FOOD polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and CANCEROUS MUTATION, which is further correlated to the, of the stomach , of the intestine ( small but above all large ) and also of the liver .



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