Will Your Coffee Drinking Habits Give You Cancer?

Amy Walker
A carcinogen that’s found in toast is also present in coffee. Should brands have a duty to warn against the risks associated with such chemicals?

Going for increasingly bouji lattes is fast becoming the new sinking-a-few-pints-at-the-local for Britain’s younger generations. In fact, coffee shops are opening at a rate of three a day while around 25 pubs close every week according to Allegra Group.

The trend goes hand-in-hand with the decline in daily alcohol usage amongst Instagram-ing, health-conscious youths; according to the Office for National Statistics over a quarter of 16 to 24-year-olds are completely teetotal. But they may not be as straight-edge as they think. On Monday, a Los Angeles judge issued a final ruling requiring coffee to carry cancer warning labels in California.

The decision from Judge Elihu Berle, that Starbucks and other caffeine giants failed to show how the benefits of drinking coffee outweigh the risks, followed a non-profit group suing roasters, distributors and retailers under a state law requiring warnings on chemicals that can cause cancer.

So, the obvious question now is, will your caffeine habit kill you?

Today’s younger generation appear to favour caffeinated beverages over alcoholic ones. Photo by Unsplash

You might want to give that extra-hot, no foam soy latte a miss

The carcinogen found in coffee, Acrylamide, is formed naturally when the beans are roasted. It’s also in other mundane stuff like toast and roasted potatoes. In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a risk assessment of the chemical and confirmed that levels found in food had the potential to increase the risk of cancer for people of all ages.

It’s not possible to estimate how much the risk is actually increased, but in his ruling, Berle said that there was no proof in the coffee giants’ defence that the acrylamide in their drinks would cause fewer than one excess case of cancer per 100,000 people.

There are some other downsides to the habit too. If you’re the type who regularly sticks three mini cartons of milk and five sachets of sugar in an Americano, it could be time to ditch the extras. Obesity is now the second biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking in the UK.

And, if you overdo it, caffeine (which has not been linked to cancer by research) can make you anxious and shaky, increasing your levels of adrenaline, not the best idea for those who suffer from high blood pressure.

Young Brits are ditching the pub for the cafe. Photo by Jony Ariadi

But, isn’t there a new thing each week that supposedly gives you cancer?

Other seemingly innocuous things that have been the subject of cancer-related panic-inducing headlines this year: light from your mobile phones, street lamps, and deodorant. If you, like 7.6 billion other humans, breath air in this post-industrial world, you also increase your risk of lung cancer by swallowing tiny particles of air pollution.

That’s not to say we should all be sticking two fingers up and eating Gregg’s for every meal while chaining Benson and Hedges’ (we all know that smoking genuinely is really, really bad for our health), but when there’s little proof of the lethality of a substance, it’s probably a bit irrational to start fearing death after every flat white.

There’s also a ton of genuine health benefits from drinking coffee. Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo recently found that drinking at least three cups a day can reduce the hardening of your coronary arteries. And, much like ‘superfoods’, aka, good ol fruit and veg, coffee is particularly rich in a group of compounds called polyphenols which can decrease blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke and increasing blood supply to the brain, giving some protection against dementia.

On top of that, last year, a study at the University of Southampton showed that compared with those who abstained from coffee, the strongest benefits amongst those that were regular drinkers included reduced risk of liver disease, including cancer. Although one expert argued that the results could be skewed because those who drank coffee may have led more healthy lifestyles.

Still, while there’s no truly decisive argument for ditching the java, ordering a cup with more than two unnecessary dietary requirements makes you look pretentious, pal.

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