Are You Drinking a Steaming Cup of Cancer?

Happy National Coffee Day! Coffee is full of antioxidants and there have even been studies linking coffee drinking to lower instances of diabetes, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer. But if you live in California, you’re probably used to seeing a warning sign about the risk of cancer from coffee displayed at your local Starbucks and on any coffee you purchase to brew at home.

That’s because twenty-five years ago, California voters passed a law known as Proposition 65 that requires the state’s lawmakers to make a list of all the chemicals they say could cause cancer or reproductive harm. Businesses in the state have to put up a warning sign in their establishment or put a warning label on their products if they contain those listed chemicals.

Sure, it sounds like a great idea in theory; in practice, however, the law isn’t really going to do anything to help you reduce your cancer risk.

Consider coffee—when coffee beans are roasted a chemical called acrylamide is produced. (The same thing happens with other foods like French fries, potato chips, bread, etc.) Acrylamide has been linked to cancer in animals, but how big is your risk of harm from the amount found in your coffee?

  • Animals were given extremely high doses of acrylamide over a long period of time. When scientists have studied acrylamide in humans, they’ve found little risk of health risk to humans who consume the lower amounts of acrylamide found in food and beverages.
  • There have been no studies linking coffee consumption to an increased risk of cancer. Rather, as we noted earlier, studies have suggested a preventative effect from drinking coffee.
  • Once coffee beans go through the entire roasting process, the level of acrylamide drops off significantly. Once the coffee is actually brewed, the level of acrylamide drops off even more. There’s a great article explaining this phenomenon here. Since acrylamide is a naturally occurring chemical reaction, there’s no way to really eliminate it from coffee.

The need to label coffee with a warning label under Proposition 65 is a perfect example of the law’s ridiculousness. Your risk of getting cancer from coffee is extremely low, if it exists at all. Yet coffee makers have to warn you about that risk, but the required labels don’t tell you about any of the possible health benefits from drinking coffee.

Consumers that don’t have the time or desire to do further research into products labeled under Proposition 65 are often needlessly scared away from a product that could actually help them more than it might possibly hurt them. (Aspirin, birth control pills, and a number of other helpful items are also required to carry Proposition 65 warnings.) You’re more likely to suffer ill health from worrying about all the items that Proposition 65 wants to warn you about then actually suffer harm from drinking a cup of coffee or a glass of wine (also listed under Proposition 65).