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Harvard experts: Evidence doesn’t support coffee-cancer link in humans

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A Los Angeles Superior Court judge recently ruled that coffee retailers and producers in California must warn consumers that coffee contains a chemical called acrylamide, which has been linked with cancer in rodents.

But experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health say that human health studies have not found statistically significant links between coffee and cancer risk—and that, in fact, coffee has been linked with numerous health benefits.

In animal studies of acrylamide, rodents given relatively high doses developed tumors. But Harvard Chan School’s Edward Giovannucci, professor of nutrition and epidemiology, said in a June 13, 2018 SELF magazine article that the levels of acrylamide in coffee “are much, much, much lower than [have been seen to] induce cancer in animals.”

Kathryn Wilson, senior research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard Chan, told SELF that acrylamide isn’t known to build up in the human body over time.

She added that cutting out coffee wouldn’t necessarily reduce the acrylamide in a person’s diet because the chemical is present in other foods, such as potatoes and baked goods. She said that it’s more important to look at overall dietary patterns rather than the presence of single chemicals in foods.

“This whole decision in California just confuses people about coffee and its effects on health,” she said.

Past studies have linked drinking coffee with health benefits including reducing the risk of early death and lowering risk of some cancers, diabetes, and some neurological, metabolic, and liver conditions.