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Is Cancer Hiding In Your Coffee?

News Flash: Starbucks Must Place Prop 65 Warning of Coffee Drinks Recently, a judge ruled that Starbucks must add a Proposition 65 warning to all of its coffee drinks to warn consumers about content of cancer-causing chemicals in its products. This came as a result of a lawsuit and found levels of acrylamide in their coffee, and the company could not show that these levels were below that which would pose a significant risk of cancer.

What is Acrylamide? It’s AGEs. Acrylamide is a cancer-causing compound that forms as a result of the chemical reaction that occurs when foods are heated to high temperatures, especially from frying, roasting, or baking. When starchy foods (potatoes, grains, sugar, coffee, etc.) are cooked at high heat, acrylamide is the result.

Acrylamide belongs to a category of chemicals called Advanced Glycation End Products, (AGEs). AGEs aren’t formed only in starchy vegetables, but other similar carcinogenic compounds to acrylamide are created in the high-temp cooking of meat as well (grilling, baking, etc.). Our bodies also make acrylamide, but our primary exposure is from food.

Where Acrylamide Hides You can find acrylamide in foods like potato chips, breads, crackers, tortilla chips, and french fries. You can spot acrylamide in foods if they have been ‘browned.’ Tobacco smoke is also another major source of exposure of acrylamide.

According to an Austrian study: For adults, the primary sources of exposure are from bread, potato chips, and french fries, account for 60% of acrylamide intake. This figures are based on average consumption and exposure levels. Kids average double the amount of acrylamide intake due to average consumption. Potato chips and french fries alone, for kids, account for 52% of total acrylamide intake.

What Happens When You Are Exposed? AGEs can affect every single tissue in the body. They can also damage DNA (genotoxic), which can cascade into cancer. When studied in rats, acrylamide specifically led to gene mutations and tumors in mammary glands, the testes, and thyroid gland. Children seem to be the most affected due to the balance of body weight and dosage of exposure.

Excessive consumption/exposure of AGEs is associated with conditions such as:

  • diabetes

  • kidney damage

  • heart attack

  • stroke

  • skin wrinkling/thinning

  • blindness and cataracts

  • cellular aging

  • cancer

  • Alzheimer’s

  • nervous system dysfunction and neuropathy

How Much is Acceptable or Safe? European food safety standards are, for the majority of the time, more stringent than those in the US. Because it is known that acrylamide is a genotoxic and carcinogenic substance, the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) cannot set a tolerable daily intake of acrylamide from food. In other words, anything above zero is harmful.

However, the EFSA has set a dose range that is known to result in small tumors or other negative effects. For tumors, this amount is .17 mg/kg of body weight per day. For neurological changes, this amount was .43 mg/kg of body weight per day. Measuring a person’s intake can instead quantify a person’s level of health risk.

United States food safety standards are looser. In 2010, the EPA set a reference dose of oral intake of acrylamide - defining a reference dose as the amount of daily exposure over a lifetime that has no predictable/noticeable health effects. The EPA’s standard is .002 mg/kg of body weight per day. If you weigh 150 pounds, your reference dose is roughly 140 micrograms daily.

In California, standards define .2 micrograms/day as the highest tolerable limit.

Acrylamide content in foods:

  • 3-oz bag of chips: 103 micrograms - baked chips might contain as much as 3x more!

  • 1 serving french fries: 28-60 micrograms

  • 1 piece of toasted bread: 4.8 micrograms

  • An 8-oz cup of Starbucks coffee: 2 micrograms (10x the California standard)

  • An 8-oz cup of water: .1 micrograms

Should You Quit Drinking Coffee?

There are some great benefits to drinking coffee - but it would be smart to be aware that large amounts of coffee, just like any food, could pose risks. On the flip side, aside from acrylamide, the caffeine in coffee could weaken or add strain on the adrenals. Do what works for you, your health, and the risk you're comfortable with!

If you're concerned about acrylamide levels and harmful chemicals in your favorite beverage try this:

  • Opt for organic coffee

  • Drink reusable coffee cup

  • Avoid instant coffee, which could as much as double your acrylamide exposure

  • Try dark roasts, which researchers found contain less than light-colored coffee beans.

If you're ready to wean off of coffee, try these tips:

  • Reduce consumption to 1 cup of coffee per day. After all, there are still some benefits!

  • Switch to organic tea. Many teas contain fluoride, which can damage the thyroid. Check your sources.

  • Try our simple Maca Hot Chocolate recipe. This can be a yummy afternoon boost that includes healthy fat and the adaptogen maca, both which feed and support your adrenals.

In light of this news about acrylamide, reducing your overall AGEs consumption can help improve overall body function and reduce the risk of cancer, cellular aging, or DNA damage.

How to reduce AGEs in food:

  • Foods cooked in acidity and in liquids tend not to form AGEs/acrylamides. In other words, if you boil, steam, or water sautée your food, you’ll drastically reduce your chances of forming AGEs.

  • You could also choose to marinate your meats and veggies with vinegar, lemon, or lime juice, which also seems to block formation of AGEs.

  • Avoid overcooking your food to the point of charred or brown.

  • Try soaking potatoes in water before cooking.

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