For years we’ve been told drinking coffee wards off cancer but this week the topic of cancer-causing chemicals in a cup of joe is giving people the jitters.
A legal battle in Los Angeles may result in coffee donning cancer-warning labels due to its acrylamide content.
The Council for Education and Research on Toxics wants coffee manufacturers, distributors and retailers to post warnings regarding the acrylamide content.
The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, passed in 1986, requires businesses that expose individuals to toxic chemicals in the course of doing business to first give warnings to such individuals.
If they do not, they can be open to liability.
What is acrylamide?
Acrylamide is a chemical used in many industrial products that produce plastics, adhesives, food packaging and the treatment of drinking water. It can also be produced when foods are heated, fried, baked, or roasted to above 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit). In 2002 reports came out regarding acrylamide in french fries, and in 2013 the FDA issued guidance to the food industry on how to minimize producing the chemical.
Roasting coffee requires the beans to be heated to close to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. This heat produces a chemical reaction between the amino acid asparagine and sugars resulting in the formation of acrylamide.
The amounts however are miniscule. Much smaller than other modes of acrylamide exposure such as cigarette smoking and exposure at work when working in industries that use acrylamide such as plastics, food processing, mining, paper, agriculture and construction.
What can acrylamide do?
In rodents, acrylamide was found to increase several types of cancer. But the doses were 1,000-10,000 times greater than what the average human is exposed to.
According to the American Cancer Society, most of the studies done so far have not found an increased risk of cancer in humans. For some types of cancer, such as kidney, ovarian and endometrial cancer, the results have been mixed, but there are currently no cancer types for which there is clearly an increased risk related to acrylamide intake.
How do I decrease exposure?
As noted earlier, acrylamide can be in a variety of products we use throughout the day. Large quantities, however, can be consumed through cigarette smoke, hence avoiding smoking is key. Moreover, avoiding frying foods, especially starches, greater than 120 degrees Celsius/248 degrees Fahrenheit if possible. Frying and or toasting to a light gold, rather than crispy dark brown color, may limit your exposure as well.
But keep in mind, numerous studies have found coffee drinkers to lower their risk of cancer, especially liver, uterine, prostate and mouth cancer. However 4-6 cups had to be consumed in order for researchers to notice a benefit.
More research still needs to be done. So while we wait for the verdict lets kick back with a cup of …..hot chocolate?
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician