Does coffee cause cancer?

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So, you're sipping a good cup of coffee, and suddenly...you hear the coffee is cancerous. What's the truth, and are there any benefits to drinking coffee? Read on to find out what the science says...

For many parents, a steaming hot cup of coffee (or three) helps them get though their busy day in one piece. In fact, it’s safe to say that coffee is a lifesaver for many a tired mum around the world. This is why we were shocked to read current news reports suggesting that coffee is cancerous.

How is it possible that coffee is cancerous when, at the same time, there is research about its health benefits? We decided to do a little research of our own to find out if this shocking news is indeed true. Or is it just a storm brewing in a coffee cup?

But first, here’s how it all started…

Californian judge orders popular coffee chain to put cancer warnings

Last week in California, Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruled that coffee companies failing to demonstrate that a chemical produced in coffee from the roasting process could be life-threatening to consumers.

“Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving… that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health,” Berle wrote in his proposed ruling.

The decision was the result of a lawsuit filed in 2008 by a California-based nonprofit called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics.

Following Berle’s verdict, coffee companies in California now must carry a cancer warning label because of the said chemical.

Surprisingly, this ruling happened despite the eased concerns in recent years about the possible health dangers of coffee. This is best exemplified when the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed coffee from its “possible carcinogen” list in 2016.

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Coffee is cancerous: true or false?

So… coffee is cancerous: Is it really true?

In actuality, it isn’t the coffee, but acrylamide — a chemical produced during the roasting of coffee beans — that is potentially carcinogenic.

Acrylamide is a byproduct in high-carbohydrate food cooked by roasting, baking, toasting or frying.

It was labelled as carcinogenic based on studies of rodents given drinking water with acrylamide.

According to the American Cancer Society, these rodents were given acrylamide at a rate 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than what humans consume in food. The animals eventually developed cancer.

However, there are  limitations in this study. It’s hard to say whether acrylamide is to blame because people and rodents absorb the chemical at different rates and metabolize it differently.

Meanwhile, in 1986, an American study examined mortality rates of 371 employees  potentially exposed to acrylamide at an industrial facility.

Eight years later, acrylamide was evaluated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” It is for this reason that we are suddenly cautious of the fact that “coffee is cancerous.”

Weak links: More research needed to prove that coffee is cancerous

Timothy Rebbeck, is a professor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. He remarks that links between cancer and acrylamide in humans are weak or need to be replicated in additional studies.

Having pointed this out, numerous studies have shown that in the adult diet, coffee is a beverage that contains acrylamide. The only problem is, no one knows what levels are acceptable or risky for people.

Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets acrylamide limits for drinking water, there aren’t any for food.

“A cup of coffee a day probably does not give high exposure to acrylamide,” and probably should not give you reason to change your habit, said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “One of the reasons you might consider cutting that down is only if you drink a lot of cups [of coffee] in a day.”

Nevertheless, the analysis of data published does not produce solid evidence that dietary acrylamide increases the risk of any type of cancer in humans. This includes kidney, large bowel, bladder, oral cavity, breast, and ovarian cancers.

In fact, a group of 23 scientists convened by the WHO’s cancer agency in 2016 looked at coffee — not acrylamide directly — and decided coffee seemed to lower the risks for liver and uterine cancers!

BUT… coffee can also be good for you!

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Downing a cuppa has never felt SO good!

What we know about acrylamide stands in stark contrast to other research that looks into the health benefits of coffee.

In reality, coffee contains a mixture of biological compounds that have beneficial effects. These vary according to the degree to which it is roasted, the type and strength of the brew, and the serving size.

These compounds have anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, and anti-cancer effects. And they have neuroprotective qualities as well. In addition, there is a belief that coffee promotes bone growth and and protects the liver.

“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.

Meanwhile, a journal article in Cancer Letters argues that habitual coffee drinking has been associated with a reduced risk of mortality and chronic diseases, including:

  • liver cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • (to a lesser extent) premenopausal breast cancer
  • (to a lesser extent) colorectal cancer
  • cardiovascular death
  • coronary heart disease
  • congestive heart failure
  • stroke

In addition, improvements to the following conditions are associated with coffee consumption:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • depression
  • obesity
  • asthma
  • neurodegenrative diseases
  • liver cancer

However, readers should be aware that many factors affect the risk of cancer in humans. Take the assumption that habitual coffee drinking can prevent cancer  with caution. Thankfully, an intake of three to four cups of coffee a day appears to be safe.

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Watch the sugar and milk content in your latte, moms and dads. | Photo source: Free-Photos/Pixabay

Other angles: Not all things are black and white

1. Acrylamide isn’t the only chemical to blame

  • Other than acrylamide, other additives like sugar can cause big issues as well. Too much  sugar in your latte can pave the way for conditions like type 2 diabetes.
  • Coffee’s high caffeine content makes it a highly addictive substance.* Regular coffee drinkers can experience strong feelings of tiredness. This is thought to be the main reason behind caffeine withdrawal symptoms that often arise from going cold turkey. Withdrawal symptoms include headaches, lack of concentration, drowsiness and irritability. These symptoms can appear as little as 12–24 hours after your last caffeine dose, and can last up to nine days.
  • Caffeine can also worsen anxiety, insomnia, cause heart palpitations and migraines, and slightly raise blood pressure in high concentrations. These symptoms can result from reducing your daily caffeine dose by as little as 100 mg — the equivalent of one cup of coffee per day.

Final thoughts

Scientists do acknowledge that coffee is a concoction of potentially harmful and also helpful nutrients. The possible benefits of coffee drinking must be weighed against potential risks. These includeg anxiety, insomnia, headaches, tremulousness, and palpitations.

Although coffee has its dangers, it is also healthy in other aspects. Until scientists can get clarity on whether coffee is cancerous or not, you should know that coffee can’t kill. The trick — like with any good thing — is to consume in moderation.

What do you think, parents?

 

References: South China Morning PostABC NewsBentham Science,  Yahoo News, HealthlineJournal 1 Journal 2 Journal 3

*NB: Authorities recommend you limit your intake to 400 mg of caffeine per day, or four to five cups of coffee. Limit consumption to no more than 200 mg per dose. Pregnant women should limit their daily intake to 200 mg of caffeine per day, or two to three cups of coffee.

Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore