Should you give up coffee? Here’s what we know …

Science Says: What we know about cancer risk and coffee

(Marilynn Marchione, AP) Trouble is brewing for coffee lovers in California, where a judge ruled that sellers must post scary warnings about cancer risks.

]But how frightened should we be of a daily cup of joe? Not very, some scientists and available evidence seem to suggest.

Scientific concerns about coffee have eased in recent years, and many studies even suggest it can help health.

“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 cancer agency moved coffee off the “possible carcinogen” list two years ago, though it says evidence is insufficient to rule out any possible role.

The current flap isn’t about coffee itself, but a chemical called acrylamide that’s made when the beans are roasted. Government agencies call it a probable or likely carcinogen, based on animal research, and a group sued to require coffee sellers to warn of that under a California law passed by voters in 1986.

The problem: No one knows what levels are safe or risky for people. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets acrylamide limits for drinking water, but there aren’t any for food.

“A cup of coffee a day, exposure probably is not that high,” and probably should not change your habit, said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“If you drink a lot of cups a day, this is one of the reasons you might consider cutting that down.”

Here’s what’s known about the risks. [Story continues below … ]


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The chemical

Start with the biggest known risk factor for cancer — smoking — which 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 … Read the full story at


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