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Coffee Consumption No Longer Linked to Cancer

In a rare reversal, the World Health Organization no longer classifies coffee as possibly carcinogenic, saying it may decrease risk of certain cancers.

ByJulia DavisNOVA NextNOVA Next
More than 100 million Americans drink coffee every day.

Go ahead and enjoy that morning cup of Joe in peace.

The World Health Organization released a report last week stating that coffee is no longer believed to be linked to an increased risk in cancer—it may even decrease risk of certain types of cancers.

The change marks a rare reversal for the organization, which in 1991 described coffee as “possibly carcinogenic,” linking it with increased risk of bladder cancer. However, since then many studies have been published on the various health benefits of coffee, including lower rates of heart disease, Type II diabetes, neurological disorders, and certain types of cancers.

Although the report marks a significant change in the WHO’s stance, many doctors feel that the organization did not go far enough. Early studies in the field did not account for the increased rates of smoking amongst coffee drinkers, and their inability to separate the two confounded the statistics and influenced the 1991 decision to classify coffee as possibly carcinogenic.

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“When these studies originally got started, back in the ’50s and the ’60s, it would be difficult to find an adult in this country that didn’t start their day off without having a cigarette and a cup of coffee,” said Dr. Roy A. Jensen, the director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center. “When so many people are engaging in two behaviors that are tightly linked, it becomes very difficult to disassociate those.”

Just last year, the panel of scientists assigned to create the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines said three to five cups of coffee daily was not only not harmful, but that moderate consumption may play a role in reducing chronic disease. The World Cancer Research Fund International has also reported that coffee can protect against multiple kinds of cancer.

The WHO report , published June 15 in The Lancet Oncology, reviewed more than 1,000 studies before coming to their conclusion. Despite finding no conclusive evidence between a carcinogenic effect and drinking coffee, the report did state that drinking coffee at temperatures exceeding 158˚ Fahrenheit probably causes esophageal cancer.

This finding does not appear to affect Western societies as much as Middle Eastern and South American societies, Dr. Jenson said.

“This association appears to be true in societies that have this habit of drinking caffeinated beverages, both tea and coffee, at an extremely high temperature,” he said. “Despite the homily ‘hotter than McDonald’s coffee,’ we actually don’t drink our coffee near as hot as a number of other cultures do.”

These findings come as good news for the 120 million Americans that drink coffee on a daily basis, and who can now breathe a sigh of relief as they drink their breakfast brew.

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