Acrylamide in Coffee? I Am Not Giving Up My Daily Two Cups of Coffee

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April 8, 2018

Every Sunday morning, a group of Lady Docs friends and I take our run or walk on the C&O canal by the Potomac River, a five mile run or four mile speed walk.   We then regroup at the starting point and drive to Black Lion Cafe, a charming Ethiopian coffee house in Rockville, to spend an hour chatting about our week or our concerns about the world.  I have participated in this activity for a few years, and the group seems to get bigger and bigger.  We take the largest table in the coffee house, have different types of coffee, and share the delicious “monkey bread” or muffins.  We are careful not to waste our calories exercising, so the whole group, sometime up to ten, might share one monkey bread treat the size of a fist.

Last week, there was news that a California court required a Cancer Warning on coffee served in the state, because of the chemical acrylamide in roasted coffee.  It was such big news that every major TV station was talking about it.  Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN even did an educational segment on this controversy of coffee drinking.  I read a few more scientific articles and blogs about the benefits of drinking coffee, and want to summarize the important points for you.

Acrylamide is on the list of 900 chemicals deemed, by the state of California, dangerous as potential causes for cancer or birth defects.  It can be found in roasted coffee in very small amounts, as little as 3 to 13 parts per billion.  It exists in products heated or fried at very high temperatures, such as bread, potato chips, crackers, french fries.  Indeed, if you open the FDA link to chemical contaminants,, you will see how brewed coffee has much lower levels of acrylamide as compared to different brands of french fries and chips.

There have been numerous studies showing the health benefits of drinking coffee.  There were 36 studies of more than 1.27 million people showing a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in those drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day.  

Another meta analysis study, published in American Journal of Epidemiology in 2011, where data were gathered from 11 studies of 479,689 study subjects, showed a reduced risk in stroke in those drinking 2 to 6 cups of coffee a day, as compared to non coffee drinkers.  A year later, researchers from the Department of Family Medicine, Kyung Hee University School of Medicine in Seoul, Korea, published their meta analysis of 9 well chosen studies showing the same preventive effect on stroke from drinking 4 or more cups of coffee a day.

Several studies have shown a reduction of liver cancer risk, as much as 40%, in coffee drinkers consuming 2 or more cups a day.  One was a meta analysis study in 2007 using data from 9 studies to reach this conclusion of a preventive effect on liver cancer in coffee drinkers.  Two recent studies, including a meta analysis of 16 other studies conducted all around the world, confirmed the lower risk of liver cancer in coffee consumption.

With the results from all the scientific studies cited above, it would be silly for me to give up my two cups of coffee every morning.  It makes much more sense to avoid high calorie fried food that contain a a higher level of acrylamide such as french fries, than to avoid something that can lower the risk of stroke, heart disease, liver cancer, and possibly Alzheimer’s.  That said, be careful what you pick up at a coffee house if you are mindful about calories and risk of stroke and heart disease.  A large Dunkin Donuts Frozen Caramel Coffee Coolatta with Cream has 990 calories 670 calories, while a Starbucks Red Velvet Cake Creme Frappuccino Blended Creme has 600, and both drinks are full of fat and carbs. You can’t blame it on the minuscule amount of acrylamide if you have a stroke drinking such coffee!  For now, I think I will stick to my usual regular brewed Ethiopian coffee at Black Lion Cafe.  I usually add a spoonful of half and half or 2% low fat milk, and it provides me enough energy to last the whole day.