Acetaldehyde: Toxic Chemical and Carcinogen in Cigarettes, Alcohol and other Household products

Acetaldehyde, also known as ethanal is a colorless, mobile liquid/gas with a pungent suffocating but pleasant fruity odor. It is a highly soluble chemical. Acetaldehyde is ubiquitous in the ambient environment. It is an intermediate product of higher plant respiration and coffee roasting, tobacco burning, vehicle exhaust fumes and coal refining. The two highest sources of acetaldehyde are residential fire places and wood stoves. Acetaldehyde has been considered as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and a group 1 human carcinogen by the American Society for Cancer.

As a chemical found in household products, acetaldehyde is used in the production of perfumes, polyester resin, and basic dyes. Acetaldehyde is also used as a fruit and fish preservative, as a flavoring agent and as a denaturant of alcohol. It is also used in fuel compositions for hardening gelatin and as a solvent the rubber, tanning and paper industries. Other household products in which acetaldehyde is found include linoleum, wooden varnishes, plastics, water-based and emulsion paints, tobacco smoke and alcohol.
Apparently, acetaldehyde becomes a toxic chemical when a person is exposed to any of its product over a long period of time. Exposure may occur to individuals occupationally exposed the toxicity of acetaldehyde either through its manufacture or use. As a toxic chemical, acetaldehyde can be a source of indoor pollution. This particular occurrence calls for concern since we spend about 90% of our time (whether at work or at home) indoors. A research conducted in France showed that the concentration of acetaldehyde measured in about 16 homes was approximately seven times higher than the concentration of acetaldehyde found outdoors. The level of toxic acetaldehyde has been detected in blood and breath.

As a carcinogen, acetaldehyde is considered a group 1 human carcinogen by both the American Society for Cancer and the US National Toxicology Program. Acetaldehyde becomes toxic chemical when it is produced from ethanol in the body and from tobacco smoke. This toxic chemical/carcinogen is the most abundant chemical in tobacco smoke and this toxic chemical in tobacco smoke dissolves easily in saliva before it enters the blood stream. Acetaldehyde as a carcinogen is produced from ethanol, in alcoholic beverages and fermented foods, by microbes that have little capacity to eliminate it which leads to accumulation of the toxic chemical in saliva during heavy drinking and smoking.

 Furthermore, as a carcinogen,this toxic chemical is known to cause cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract and liver in alcohol drinkers who have been exposed to high levels of the toxic chemical. It has been discovered that poor hygiene, heavy drinking and chronic smoking modifies the oral flora to produce more carcinogenic acetaldehyde from ingested alcohol. The production of this toxic chemical can increase 6.5 fold during heavy drinking. Tobacco smoking can also accelerate this process. Active smoking increases salivary acetaldehyde that can then enter the stomach by swallowing and the long term exposure through this process can lead to stomach cancer.

Chronic alcohol consumption has been established as a risk factor in colorectal cancer. The carcinogen, acetaldehyde, is produced in the large intestine by bacterial oxidation of ethanol and this microbial-mediated ethanol oxidation increases the concentration of this toxic chemical in the colon. This activity of the carcinogen over a period of time can lead to colon cancer.

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