A Los Angeles judge recently ruled that all coffee sold in the state of California should come with a cancer warning label; this after the Council for Education and Research on Toxins, also known as CERT, argued that as many as 90 coffee housed had failed to provide their customer with clear warnings about compounds found in caffeine that may post a cancer risk. This ruling got many people talking on social media and wondering, ‘Could coffee really cause cancer?’

The answer? Not necessarily.

The cancer-causing compound isn’t from the coffee itself. Instead, the potential cancer risk comes from a chemical known as acrylamide, which is used in different industrial processes, such as making paper, plastics, dyes, cigarette smoke, certain adhesives, as well as treating drinking water. This same chemical also forms when coffee beans are roasted, and when it is consumed it transforms into something known as glycidamide, which may cause damage to DNA – this according to the National Cancer Institute. In recent years the FDA has also released statements hoping to educate the public on the health risks associated with acrylamide, while the International Agency for Research on Cancer actually removed coffee off its list of possible carcinogens back in 2016.

While no one can say for sure whether or not coffee is one-hundred percent safe, there’s no urgent reason for concern. What may be a concern, however, is the temperature of coffee and other hot beverages (such as tea), as previous population studies done in places like Iran, Turkey, China and South America – where these beverages are consumed at temperatures of approximately 70 degrees Celsius – found an increased risk of esophageal cancer. In comparison, coffee and tea are generally consumed about 10 degrees cooler in North America, at around 60 degrees Celsius. Esophagael cancer is the 8th most common form of cancer worldwide, and an estimated 2,200 Canadians are diagnosed with it each year; and when hot beverages are consumed, the esophagus can become irritated which then increases the risk of cancer.

In the grand scheme of things, coffee is still safe to drink. In fact, it has not only been shown to boost energy and increase metabolic rates, but can also enhance your brain function. Dr. Ali Ghahary says there are many other things that can pose a much more significant risk to the development of cancer, such as smoking and excess alcohol consumption. If you want to know more about your risk of developing cancer, never hesitate to reach out to your family physician (or other medical professional, such as a pharmacist) with any questions you have. Sometimes all it takes is just takes a few minor lifestyle changes to reduce that risk – including having a healthy diet and getting regiular physical activity – both of which Dr. Ali Ghahary strongly advocates.