Thursday, April 5, 2018

Coffee's not as scary as . . . -- April 5, 2018 column

President Donald Trump provokes a trade war with China and shakes the stock market and our retirement accounts like snowglobes.
He asks governors to send the National Guard to a purported “crisis” on the Mexican border while he rolls back the environmental rules that protect our air and water.
Scary times, indeed.
Sit back, relax, watch cute kitten videos on Facebook and savor a hot mug of coffee. Uh-oh.
Facebook isn’t a safe place, if it ever was. With the personal data of 87 million of us shared, we’re ripe for the picking on the dark web, if we weren’t already.
And that comforting cup of joe soon will come with a cancer warning label in California. What starts on the Left Coast often wafts east.
Wait a minute. Deep breaths. Should we be scared of our coffee, too?
Decades of medical research say no. A review in the British Medical Journal last November examined more than 200 studies and found that coffee consumption was more often associated with benefit than harm.
Drinking three cups of coffee a day was associated with the greatest benefit in terms of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and stroke, compared with not drinking coffee, researchers found.
Two studies reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine last year followed people of various ethnicities around the world for years and found “people who reported drinking more coffee tended to live longer than those who reported drinking less.”
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer removed coffee from its list of substances “possibly carcinogenic to humans” in 2016, after it reviewed 1,000 studies and found “inadequate evidence” of a link to cancer.
So why the warning label? A chemical called acrylamide, produced during coffee roasting, may cause cancer. Emphasis on “may.”
A California judge wrote a preliminary ruling March 30 requiring Starbucks and dozens of other coffee purveyors in the state to warn customers about acrylamide. The chemical occurs naturally when some foods are cooked at high heat. It’s in french fries, potato chips, crackers, bread, cereal, prune juice and canned black olives.
Acrylamide is on California’s list of about 800 natural and man-made substances that are linked to cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm. Under the state’s Prop. 65, which aims to alert consumers to health hazards so they can make smart decisions, businesses must notify customers if their products contain the chemicals. It’s why you see warnings on flashlights, Christmas tree lights and pesticides, among other items.
Lab studies have found acrylamide in high doses in drinking water increases the risk of cancer in rats and mice. But the doses have been “as much as 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the levels people might be exposed to in foods,” says the American Cancer Society, adding, “Based on the studies done so far, it is not clear if acrylamide affects cancer risk in people.”
A public interest law firm sued the coffee shops in a California court in 2010, saying they have a duty to warn consumers. A similar lawsuit led potato chip makers to reduce the amount of acrylamide in their products to avoid warning labels.  
But the National Coffee Association says acrylamide is in coffee at “miniscule” levels, occurs naturally and is not an additive. It’s weighing its legal actions.
“Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage,” said William “Bill” Murray, president and CEO of the coffee association. “This lawsuit has made a mockery of Prop. 65, has confused consumers and does nothing to improve public health.”
But the lawsuit and the warning labels do serve a purpose. They help us gain perspective. We don’t have to give up coffee.
As with most things, health officials advise moderation and they suggest watching what you put in your coffee. Sugar has replaced fat as a nutritional pariah.
The WHO’s cancer panel did advise caution on a related topic. 
“Drinking very hot beverages probably causes cancer of the esophagus in humans,” it said.
There you go. It wouldn’t hurt to let your coffee cool.
Sometimes we can control what scares us.   
©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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