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Styrene is considered the phenylalanine-glucose counterpart of acrylamide (instead of asparagine-glucose). In the presence of sugars, phenylalanine, similarly to asparagine and lysine, can undergo carbonyl-assisted decarboxylative deamination reaction to generate styrene[1]. Styrene is metabolized / activated in the human body to phenylglyoxylic acid (alters dopamine levels)[2] or genotoxic styrene-7,8-oxide (SO).[3] SO is neurotoxic (synergistically with acrylamide).[4] Phenylalanine heated together with 1-hydroxyacetone or methylglyoxal yielded only 0.03 mol% styrene.[5]

Styrene is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), formed during incomplete combustion of organic compounds (as in cigarette smoke[6]) and a Maillard reaction product (and used in dyes). Similar to toluene and ethylbenzene, syrene is also released during food decaying processes[7] (as in spoiled salmon[8]). Styrene is not carcinogenic[9], but hepatotoxicity (when metabolized to SO) in glutathione-depleted mice.[10] Environmentally, commercially manufactured polystyrene nanoparticles are taken up by algae and accumulate in fish, resulting in weight loss and altered cholesterol distribution[11], though may be eliminated within bile.[12] In rats, prenatal styrene exposure decreases postnatal serotonine and catecholamine levels in the brain.[13] Chronic exposure causes remodelling of the intestinal villi[14] and structural changes in apolipoproteins.[15] The testis may be the major target for styrene toxicity.[16] In rats, prenatal low level exposure to estrogenic styrene trimers obstructed genital organ development, and disrupted the endocrine systems of male rat offspring.[17]

Similar to bisphenol A and phthalates, plastic drink containers[18]] and plastic liners in cans and other polystyrene foam packages[19] are a source of styrene exposure from food/drinks. Except for polystyrene egg cartons, which leak no styrene into eggs.[20] Bottled drinking water may contain styrene (up to 29.5 mcg/L; increased to 69.53 mcg/L after 1 yr storage) leached from the polystyrene (PS) bottle.[21] Migration of styrene from disposable cups (styrofoam and PS, not paper cups) into drinks highly depends on fat content and temperature of drinks.[22] Butter[23], yoghurt[24][25], as the migration of styrene from packaging material very much depends on fat-contents of the liquid/food (and temperature).[26] In the US, the exposure to styrene from polystyrene food-contact articles is estimated at 9 mcg per day, compared to 1 to 4 mcg /day for UK residents.[27]

olives and olive oil may also contain styrene[28], due to the uptake of aromatics, metabolized into styrene.[29] Blue-cheese fungi (eg Gorgonzola, camembert[30]) also produce styrene, as well as the plastics used for packaging.[31] Due to gram-negative bacteria in dairy, all raw milk cheeses also contain styrene (and o-dichlorobenzene; a derivative of benzene).[32] Cinnamon constituents naturally contain the styrene structure (incl. cinnamic acid[33]), which may get released due to the activity of fungal species present on cinnamon.[34] Total daily styrene exposure is estimated at maximally 0.17 mcg/kg bw[35] and human lifetime risk for tumors is estimated to be very low.[36] In another study the daily styrene exposure is estimated to range from 18.2 to 55.2 mcg per person (roughly 0.2 to 0.8 mcg/kg bw) with the greatest proportion coming from inhaled styrene (exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, indoor heating).[37]