This common chemical found in coffee could put you at higher risk for cancer

Most Americans benefit by starting their day with a cup of joe. Not only does the caffeine in coffee offer an energy boost to jumpstart your day, but there are also many health benefits linked to drinking coffee.

According to Healthline, research shows coffee can enhance brain function, increase metabolism, and improve exercise performance. It can also lower the risk of diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and type 2 diabetes.

However, new concerns have been arising over a potentially dangerous chemical found in all coffee called acrylamide.

What is acrylamide?

This white, odorless chemical is traditionally used to make plastics and treat wastewater. In the late 1990s, workers on the Hallandsås Tunnel in Sweden began to feel ill after being exposed to the chemical during construction. Wildlife in and around the river began to die as well.

Through further investigation into the instance, a group of Swedish scientists found that acrylamide was actually present in coffee, as well as a variety of baked goods and cigarette smoke. In fact, one study reported that today acrylamide can be found in more than one-third of the calories consumed in the US.

This happens through a process called the Maillard reaction, which takes place when certain foods (or beverages) are heated higher than 248 degrees Fahrenheit. For coffee, this takes place during the bean roasting process, meaning there is really no way to remove the acrylamide.

Not all coffee is equal when it comes to acrylamide. A 2013 study revealed that natural roasted coffee contained the least amount at 179 mcg/kg. Furthermore, instant coffee contains 100 percent more than this and coffee substitutes contain 300 percent more.

Should you stop drinking coffee?

Not necessarily.

Acrylamide in high doses is harmful and potentially even cancer-causing. Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to high concentrations of the chemical can cause damage to the human nervous system.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) also classifies acrylamide as a Group 2A carcinogen, meaning they believe it can cause cancer in humans.

However, research suggests that the amount of acrylamide present in coffee is nowhere near high enough to actually have an impact on humans.

The EPA classified acrylamide as a “probable human carcinogen” but said there is more information needed from human studies to come to a conclusion. All of the current research has been conducted on mice exposed to doses 1,000 – 100,00 times larger than humans ever encounter through diet.

There is no current research that supports a link between drinking coffee and an increased risk for cancer. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

A 2015 review acknowledged the presence of this harmful chemical in coffee but found no concern for cancer risk when it came to drinking coffee. They found, instead, that coffee consumption can reduce a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer, liver cancer, and breast cancers.

Similarly, a 2017 paper confirmed that drinking coffee in moderation is more likely to benefit someone’s health rather than cause harm.

How to avoid acrylamide

What does moderation look like? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends limiting coffee intake to 4-5 cups a day. The average American only consumes about 2 cups per day.

If you are still concerned about exposing yourself to acrylamide, there are some precautions you can take to reduce exposure, according to Healthline:

  • Don’t smoke and reduce exposure to secondhand smoke as much as possible.
  • Avoid eating fried foods
  • Avoid burnt or charred foods
  • Use a microwave or boil food when possible
  • Store potatoes outside the fridge
  • Let bread dough proof longer
  • Choose natural roasted coffee beans over instant coffee or coffee substitutes

If you really want to avoid acrylamide in your coffee altogether, you could opt for unroasted, or green coffee beans. However, you will likely have to get used to a much different flavor palette in this case.

If you do choose to stick with your regular morning coffee, don’t worry too much. The research is on your side and you are probably doing your body a lot more favors than harm.