REPORT: Coffee and the risk of cancer

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A California judge recently order coffee sellers throughout the state to post warnings about a cancer risk related to drinking coffee, yet there are conflicting opinions on its carcinogenic threat.

The culprit of the alleged threat is acrylamide, a chemical which forms when coffee beans are roasted. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, acrylamide “probably” causes cancer in humans.

Just days prior to the California judge’s order, however, a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggested that coffee may help protect against heart disease. Other studies have shown that coffee is good for the heart, and has linked it with numerous health benefits — including a lower probability of developing many types of cancer, WebMD reported.

“There’s no indication, from hundreds if not thousands of studies, that there’s an increased risk of cancer from coffee,” said Edward Giovannucci, MD, ScD, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “If anything, there seems to be consistent studies showing that there’s very little hint of any adverse effect.”

Marjorie Lynn McCullough, a registered dietitian and strategic director of nutritional epidemiology at the American Cancer Society, said that coffee can help prevent cancer.

“Coffee contains hundreds of biologically active compounds, some of which have been shown in the lab to have anti-cancer activity,” McCullough said.

Joining many other experts, McCullough noted that coffee does not appear to raise the odds of developing cancer. Although she acknowledges the presence of acrylamides, she contends that plenty of foods contain more acrylamides than coffee.

“If you want to reduce acrylamides in your diet, avoid cookies and fried foods like chips,” she said. “But the evidence does not seem to suggest that acrylamides in the diet increase the risk of cancer.”

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