Storm clouds brew in California coffee cups. Companies from all over Germany must add a cancer warning to coffee, a judge said this week because the drink contains a chemical called acrylamide.
Elihu M. Berle, Los Angeles County Supreme Court Judge, Joined a Not-for-Profit Organization A Case Against Starbucks, Peets, and Dozens of Other Coffee Chains stating that companies selling coffee violate a government rule called Proposition 65 offended. Prop 65 requires companies with at least 10 employees to disclose carcinogenic and toxic chemicals in their products.
The lawsuit, filed by an organization called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, cites the presence of acrylamide in coffee. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, describes acrylamide as a human neurotoxin and a "group 2A probable carcinogen".
With these classifications, the chemical certainly does not sound like something people want to swim into their morning pick-me-up. But experts said coffee drinkers should not change their habits on the basis of the new ruling.
"The name" acrylamide, "it makes it sound frightening," said Michelle Francl, a chemist at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. But she pointed out that a liquid called "Oxidan" sounds ominous, though that's a fantastic phrase for water.
Rodents who receive large quantities of acrylamide develop cancer. This is an "acceptable and appropriate" way to detect a carcinogenic effect, said J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief physician of the American Cancer Society. But everything ̵
Connections between cancer and acrylamide in humans are weak or need to be repeated in additional studies, said Timothy Rebbeck, a professor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Lichtenfeld agreed. "There are no well-done human studies that definitely answer the question," he said. The research indicates that the human body does not absorb the chemical as fast as the rodents, and we metabolize it differently.
"From a practical point of view, we would recommend that people stop drinking coffee as a result of the court's decision? No," Lichtenfeld said. "Science does not show that to us."
Scientists at Stockholm University in Sweden discovered acrylamide in fried and baked foods in 2002. As starchy foods heat up, their sugars and amino acids react. Acrylamide is one of the by-products.
"You can not make roasted coffee without making acrylamide," Francl said. "What feels a bit chemophobic is to focus on coffee rather than where acrylamide appears."
When the Food and Drug Administration tested various foods on acrylamide, the highest levels were found in coffee, chocolate, bread, cereals, and especially French fries and potato chips. (But even in chips, the highest acrylamide concentrations in thousands of parts per billion were measured much lower than the levels that cause cancer in laboratory animals.)
It is easy for health professionals to recommend laying out the fries and Chips just in case acrylamide is dangerous. However, coffee has health benefits and clouds the picture.
In November, the British Medical Journal published a summary of studies that summarized studies, which in turn summarized smaller studies on coffee and health. Increased consumption of coffee was associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer, endometrial carcinoma, leukemia, melanoma and other specific cancers.
"There are many studies that suggest that coffee protects against cancer," said Rebbeck. "This evidence is at least as strong as the evidence against acrylamide."
In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that coffee was "unclassifiable" as a human carcinogen.
"The reality is not coffee" According to the IARC, "Lichtenfeld said.
Research on coffee consumption is difficult and often based on how people report their habits that can be disturbed by other foods and their behavior.
None of the protective associations between coffee and cancer are final, Rebbeck warned (if they were, oncologists might recommend infusions of coffee.) The science of coffee is too nuanced to present on a warning sign, he said. " People can not make a meta-analysis of the data in the supermarket. "