Will coffee give you cancer or improve your health?

Jelisa Castrodale

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The next time you get your standard tall non-fat Flat White at Starbucks, your cup may have a completely bungled version of your name and a warning that the beverage you’re about to drink might cause cancer. That first thing isn’t new (don’t you know it, Mett) but earlier this week, a judge in California ruled that Starbucks and other coffee giants had failed to prove that a chemical from the roasting process did not contribute to an increased risk of cancer. That means those long-threatened warning labels might soon show up on the side of every California’s to-go cups.


The chemical at the center of this ruling is acrylamide, which can form when certain foods are fried or baked at high temperatures – or when coffee beans are roasted. The FDA has been “actively investigating” its effects since 2002, and the state of California has already added it to its list of known carcinogens. In 2010, a nonprofit organization called Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) filed a lawsuit against Starbucks and more than 80 other coffee-serving chains for failing to provide a “clear and reasonable warning” that downing that morning brew could expose them to a potential cancer-causer.

So that’s the backstory, and Wednesday’s ruling is just the latest chapter. “Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said, according to Reuters. Starbucks has until April 10 to file its objection to that decision.

“Cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading,” the National Coffee Association said in a statement. “The U.S. government’s own Dietary Guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle.” The NCA is right. In the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020”, the agency says that between three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee every day can be part of “healthy eating styles” because the beverage “is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases (e.g., cancer) or premature death, especially from cardiovascular disease.” (It’ll be interesting to see if this section of the USDA’s guidelines changes in 2020).

And according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Heart Association, drinking three cups of coffee every day was associated with a decreased risk of clogged arteries.

Researchers from the University of Sao Paulo's School of Public Health focused on 4,400 Brazilians who were part of a government health study, comparing their daily, weekly and monthly coffee-drinking habits with their coronary artery calcium (CAC) readings, which scan for signs of calcium build-up in their arteries. The researchers discovered that the heavy coffee drinkers (defined as more than three cups every day) also had better CAC readings than those who limited themselves to one cup a day, or downed between one and three cups every day.

"We have not tested the limit of cups of coffee for which there was a protection,” lead study author Andreia Miranda said, although she did warn that other studies “have already shown that excessive consumption of this beverage may not bring health benefits."

Or, if you listen to the state of California, that much coffee might increase your cancer risk. So who are you supposed to listen to: a judge in California, a researcher in Sao Paulo or the USDA? We have no idea – we’re just holding out for the next study.


Jelisa Castrodale

About Jelisa Castrodale

Read more about Jelisa Castrodale here.


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