The truth about coffee, cancer, and acrylamide

In 2018, a California judge ruled that coffee companies must post warnings about acrylamide in coffee.

Shortly after, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) reversed the ruling, stating that coffee does “not pose a significant risk of cancer”1. The United States Food and Drug Administration supported this decision, stating that warnings “would be more likely to mislead consumers than to inform them”2.

American Cancer Society researchers found that regular coffee consumption significantly reduces the risk of developing numerous cancers and debilitating diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and colorectal, liver, breast, and endometrial cancers.


Coffee and cancer is a touchy, confusing, contested, and highly personal topic. While we all have opinions on the health benefits of coffee, today we talking about research findings published by reputable institutions, starting with the institution charged with protecting public health in one of the nations most health-conscious states, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).

Last year a judge, not a doctor or health professional, ruled that coffee shops had to post cancer warnings because coffee contains a minuscule amount of a potentially carcinogenic, naturally occurring chemical, acrylamide. Acrylamide develops when foods containing sugars and asparagine, an amino acid, are cooked or roasted at very high heat. In addition to coffee, acrylamide is also found in, among other American staples, bread, breakfast cereal, french fries, cookies, crackers, baked goods, and potato chips. Potential is a keyword here. After significant research, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified acrylamide as a 2A probable carcinogen (carcinogens are substances that cause cancer) and determined that coffee was not carcinogenic*. That said, prolonged, direct exposure to acrylamide can damage the human nervous system for those who work with the chemical on an industrial level — and no amount of coffee consumption or roasting could come close to producing an industrial level.

Not only is coffee not carcinogenic but numerous studies, including those conducted by the American Cancer Society, have found that regular consumption of coffee may actually reduce risk of developing certain types of cancer, including colorectal, liver, breast, melanoma, prostate, and endometrial cancers. Researchers at the UK Biobank took this statement one step further stating that drinking coffee regularly could extend life by 16%. Their research found that coffee helps you live longer by reducing internal inflammation and providing a host of antioxidants that stop or reduce cell damage. (Learn more about coffee and health.)

The bottom line? Keep drinking your coffee! Doctors, public health agencies, and cancer research institutes all agree that coffee offers numerous health benefits and reduces risk of developing not only cancer but many debilitating diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, leukemia, and type 2 diabetes. What you should be watching when you sip is the coffee’s temperature. While coffee may boost your health and extend your life, consuming liquids over 149ºF may increase your risk of esophageal cancer. If you brew your coffee between 195 and 205ºF and wait five seconds before sipping, you will be sipping safe.

To learn more about coffee and health, please visit our Wellness Series and Coffee & Health resource page.

*For years research concerning coffee and health was skewed by researchers failing to remove smokers from the test sample. When reviewing studies related to coffee — or any study linking cancer and something we ingest, be sure the study used only non-smokers in their sample and test populations.


1Final Statement of Reasons, Title 27, California Code of Regulations, Adoption of New Section 25704, Exposures to Listed Chemicals In Coffee Posing No Significant Risk

2Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on FDA’s support for exempting coffee from California’s cancer warning law


Sources

Coffee and Cancer: What the Research Really Shows

Can coffee cause cancer?

Is the acrylamide in coffee harmful to health?

There’s a chemical in coffee that may cause cancer, but researchers have found a way to reduce your risk

Acrylamide in Coffee: What Roasters Should Know

Association of Coffee Drinking With Mortality by Genetic Variation in Caffeine Metabolism

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