Microwave Popcorn: Bad for Your Brain?


Story Updated: Sep 26, 2012

At the magazine office I work at in New York City, I never know what the day will bring, except for one thing: the late-afternoon aroma of microwave popcorn wafting by my cubbie.

Many of my co-workers are fond of the snack -- and they're hardly in the minority. According to The Popcorn Board, the average American eats 52 quarts a year.

That's why when I recently ran across this study from the University of Minnesota that linked a buttery flavoring in microwave popcorn to Alzheimer's disease, I was alarmed. The researchers found that a compound called diacetyl increases the clumping of a type of protein in the brain that is associated with dementia. So I asked Dawn Jackson Blatner, registered dietitian in Chicago and author of The Flexitarian Diet, whether we should now stop eating popcorn.

"Well, the news coverage of the report made it seem like diacetyl was in a lot of microwave popcorn brands," said Blatner. The good news: "Many companies removed it several years ago when a report linked lung cancer to employees who worked at the plant that made the popcorn," she explained.

"Yes, I remember that," I said, quickly googling. (Sure enough, Pop Weaver ditched the compound in 2007. And, for that matter, so did Orville Redenbacher, Pop Secret and Jolly Time. Other manufacturers may have done it too, but it's hard to tell because diacetyl isn't specifically listed on food labels.)

With this new information, it seemed that microwave popcorn was pretty much off the hook. But then Blatner asked me whether I'd heard of PFCAs. I hadn't -- apparently, PFCAs (perfluorinated compounds) are used when manufacturing microwave popcorn bags to keep the popcorn from sticking to the bag. "There's some research that has linked them to cancer," said Blatner, "though there's nothing definite."

"So do you eat popcorn?" I asked.

Blatner told me she does ... but she air-pops it. "That way, I don't have to worry about any of these chemicals," she said. "And I'm in control of the toppings." Smart -- and a good way to stay healthy and continue eating popcorn. Phew!

Before we parted, I asked Blatner about her favorite kind of popcorn: grated Parmesan cheese and dried oregano, she said. "It tastes like pizza popcorn." She added: "My husband likes his popcorn spicy so he uses a dash of cayenne or chili powder. And my sister-in-law just told me she's started adding sea salt and balsamic vinegar."

Sounds dish! And what's your favorite popcorn topping?

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Dr. Dzwonczyk – Medical Director

Geriatric Medicine

NYS Veterans' Home at Oxford

Welcome to New York State Veterans' Home at Oxford
The New York State Veterans' Home at Oxford is a 242 bed facility located in Chenango County about thirty miles north of Binghamton NY. Situated on a sixty acre site, the Home has spectacular scenic views of rural countryland. We provide state of the art medical, nursing, psychosocial, and rehabilitative services to our residents. We also have several academic affiliations including the Upstate Medical Center College of Medicine/Clinical Campus at Binghamton.

About Us
The New York State Veterans' Home at Oxford is a long term care skilled nursing facility. We are located in Oxford NY, and we serve the Central New York Region. We provide care for veterans and their dependents. Our current building has 242 beds in seven different units, including our rehabilitation unit and our dementia unit. Our facility is clean and pleasant, and our staff is friendly and professional. We welcome you to a guided tour upon request!

Dr. Dzwonczyk – Medical Director

Dr. Dzwonczyk Receives Certification in Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

It is with great pleasure that we announce that Philip J. Dzwonczyk, MD has been certified in Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Dr. Dzwonczyk joins more than nineteen hundred fellow physicians to have achieved such certification.

Hospice and palliative medicine is the medical discipline of the broad therapeutic model known as hospice and palliative care. The discipline and model of care are devoted to achieving the best possible quality of life for the patient and family throughout the course of a life-threatening illness through the relief of suffering and the control of symptoms. Hospice and palliative medicine helps the patient and family face the prospect of death assured that comfort will be a priority, values and decisions will be respected, spiritual and psychosocial needs will be addressed, practical support will be available and opportunities will exist for growth and development. Hospice in the United States is an organized program that provides palliative care for terminally ill patients and supportive services to patients, their families, and significant others.

Dr. Dzwonczyk is the medical director of the New York State Veterans Home in Oxford. He recently completed the Harvard Medical School Program in Palliative Care Education and Practice and has worked for many years as an internist and geriatrician practicing in central New York. Dr. Dzwonczyk received his undergraduate degree from the University of Scranton and his doctor of medicine degree from Jefferson Medical College. He trained in internal medicine and psychiatry at the Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and holds specialty certificates in Internal Medicine and Geriatric Medicine. He has achieved Certified Medical Director status from the American Medical Directors Association and is a Fellow of both the American College of Physicians and the American Geriatrics Society. Dr. Dzwonczyk has directed the medical care of patients at the New York State Veterans Home since 1993 and has been active as a medical educator. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Upstate Medical University and is active as a member of the faculty of the Geriatric Medicine Clerkship of the Clinical Campus in Binghamton. In addition to his interest in palliative care, Dr. Dzwonczyk has an interest in the evaluation and management of cognitive and mood disorders of the elderly.

The American Board of Hospice and Palliative Medicine was formed in 1995 to establish and measure the level of knowledge, attitudes and skills required for certification of physicians practicing hospice and palliative medicine. Eligibility requirements for certification are significant. In order to be eligible to sit for the certifying examination, applicants must have received prior major specialty certification, practiced at least two years following residency, worked as a member of an interdisciplinary team for at least two years and have directly participated in the active care of at least fifty terminally ill patients in the preceding three years. Alternatively, applicants must have completed specialty fellowship training in palliative medicine. The fellowship training program must be at least one year in length and must meet the established voluntary standards for such a program.

ABHPM conducts its Certification Examination in Hospice and Palliative Medicine annually at multiple sites through the United States. Currently, 1908 physicians have been certified by virtue of meeting certification requirements, including successful completion of this examination. A listing of currently certified physicians may be viewed on the Boards website at www.ABHPM.org.

Information on the American Board of Hospice and Palliative Medicine may be obtained from the website at www.ABHPM.org or by call (301) 439-8001.

Welcome to New York State Veterans' Home at Oxford