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Coffee and health concerns: what to know about your cup of joe

Countless Americans rely on coffee to get through the day. For years, there have been conflicting reports about the health benefits and risks of doing this.

One recent, headline-making view is that coffee contains carcinogens. There is also evidence, however, that coffee helps protect against cancer and has other health benefits.

So, does coffee pose a significant health risk to consumers? Is it time for you to break the habit?

Judge orders California cafés to put cancer warnings on their coffee

In a recent California lawsuit, a superior court judge ruled that every café with ten or more employees in the state must label their coffee products with warnings that coffee contains acrylamide, a substance that could cause cancer..

According to the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, acrylamide is a probable carcinogen. The American Cancer Society says acrylamide is present in cigarette smoke. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates acrylamide in drinking water. The EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulate exposure to acrylamide in the workplace.

Should I be concerned about my health as a coffee drinker?

Acrylamide is a byproduct of the coffee bean roasting process. The chemical is produced when coffee beans and certain foods are cooked at high temperatures such as when something is fried, baked or roasted. Many people aren't aware that the chemical is also found in popular foods such as chocolate, cereal, french fries, potato chips, and bread.

Some researchers disagree with claims that acrylamide is harmful. While some lab studies have shown a connection between acrylamide and cancer in rats and mice, they argue this does not necessarily show that acrylamide is harmful to the health of humans given the difference in ingestion amounts.

The health benefits of coffee

Many studies have shown positive benefits of drinking coffee. For example, the Harvard School of Public Health has reported benefits from coffee consumption that include reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, the prevention of gallstones, and possibly a reduced risk of Parkinson's disease.

Other research has found that antioxidants in coffee can provide a degree of protection against diseases, and even a lower risk of certain types of cancer. The diseases that coffee can help to protect against include brain diseases.

Dr. David Perlmutter, a neurologist and bestselling author, is a prominent advocate for the health benefits of coffee on the brain. In his view, coffee helps to prevent Alzheimer's disease and dementia and is generally a healthy choice.

Put warnings in context

Apart from cancer risks, coffee has other potential downsides. It can increase blood pressure and heart rate, and the caffeine can interfere with sleep. Pregnant women are also encouraged to avoid it because of increased risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.

Nonetheless, the California ruling about coffee containing carcinogens calls out for context. As Dr. Perlmutter and others have noted, coffee has many possible benefits as well as potentially negative ones. When deciding whether to kick the coffee habit or continue it, it's worth considering both the pros and cons.

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