Cancer Risk and Coffee? No Real Evidence of Any!
Health experts say the controversial warning overstates the risks and that the health benefits of drinking coffee far outweigh any potential downsides.
More California “Nut Country” action.
Recently, a California judge ruled that coffee sellers must post scary warnings about cancer risks.
The Big Q: How scared should we be of a daily cup of Java?
The Big A: Scientists and available evidence suggest not very.
Scientific concerns about coffee have eased in recent years, and many studies even suggest coffee is really healthy.
“At the minimum, coffee is neutral. If anything, there is fairly good evidence of the benefit of coffee on cancer,” said Dr. Edward Giovannucci, a nutrition expert at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer agency moved coffee off the “possible carcinogen” list 2 years ago, saying evidence is insufficient for any possible role.
The current uproar is not about coffee itself, but a chemical called acrylamide (ah-KRILL-ah-mide) that’s made when the beans are roasted.
Government agencies call it a probable or likely carcinogen, based on animal research, and a group of lawyer led profiteers sued to require coffee sellers to warn of that under a California law passed by voters in Y 1986.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets acrylamide limits for drinking water, but there are none for food.
Below is what’s known about the risks.
Smoking tobacco generates acrylamide.
In the diet, French fries, potato chips, crackers, cookies, cereal and other high-carbohydrate foods contain it as a byproduct of roasting, baking, toasting or frying.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests of acrylamide levels found they ranged from 175 to 351 parts per billion for 6 brands of coffee tested; the highest was for one type of decaf coffee crystals.
By comparison, French fries at one fast food chain ranged from 117 to 313 parts per billion, depending on the location tested. Some commercial fries had more than 1,000.
The “probable” or “likely” carcinogen label is based on studies of animals given high levels of acrylamide in drinking water. But people and rodents absorb the chemical at different rates and metabolize it differently, so its relevance to human health is unknown.
A group of 23 scientists convened by the WHO’s cancer agency in Y 2016 looked at coffee, not acrylamide directly and decided coffee was unlikely to cause breast, prostate or pancreatic cancer, and that it seemed to lower the risks for liver and uterine cancers.
The evidence was inadequate to determine its effect on dozens of other cancer types.
The Nut Country Law
Since Y 1986, California businesses have been required to post warnings about chemicals known to cause cancer or other health risks, and more than 900 substances are on the state’s list today, but what’s a “significant” risk is arguable.
Coffee sellers and other defendants in the lawsuit that brought about Thursday’s ruling have 2 weeks to challenge it or appeal.
The law “has potential to do much more harm than good to public health,” by confusing people into thinking risks from something like coffee are similar to those from smoking.
The International Food Information Council and Foundation, an organization funded mostly by the food and beverage industry, says the law is confusing the public because it doesn’t note levels of risk, and adds that US dietary guidelines say up to 5 cups of coffee a day can be part of a healthy diet.
The American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer, said, “The issue here is dose, and the amount of acrylamide that would be included in coffee, which is really very small, compared to the amount from smoking tobacco. I don’t think we should be worried about a cup of coffee.”
“Studies in humans suggest that if anything, coffee is protective for some types of cancer,” she said. “As long as people are not putting a lot of sugar or sweeteners in, coffee, tea and water are the best things for people to be drinking.”
The California judge’s ruling contrasts with what science shows.
Going for a cup of Organic black coffee now.
Have a terrific Easter weekend.