The World Health Organization has said coffee is safe if enjoyed at “normal” temperatures and may even help prevent some cancers. Coffee had been on a watch list for 25 years.
The UN health body’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued the new guidance Wednesday to the relief of many of the world’s coffee drinkers, who were confused by conflicting health advice.
Researchers said while very hot drinks probably increase the risk of cancer, coffee is no longer feared to be a carcinogen.
“It doesn’t matter what the liquid is,” said epidemiologist Dana Loomis, who took part in a review of the world’s most popular hot beverages. “What matters is the temperature.”
The IARC amassed all the available scientific literature – more than 1,000 studies – on cancer and coffee, but evidence gathered since 1991, when the last review of coffee was carried out, could not link the drink – at “normal serving temperature” – to an elevated cancer risk, the IARC said.
The research group even said to prevent some types of cancer – including tumors of the uterus, liver and breast – there are indications that coffee may even be beneficial.
The new guidance also covers the beverage mate – sometimes known as yerba mate – which is popular in South America and the Middle East. Typically drunk piping hot, the IARC found that the high temperature was probably behind an observed link with cancer of the esophagus, which transports food and fluids from the mouth to the stomach.
In many parts of the world, coffee, tea or mate is traditionally drunk at about 70 degrees C (158 degrees F), which coincides with elevated esophageal cancer rates.
Dana Loomis, deputy head of the IARC program that classifies carcinogens, said very hot drinks might cause a “thermal injury” in the throat that could eventually promote the growth of tumors, but that evidence was limited. He said there wasn’t enough data to suggest if eating very hot food might also be risky.
Coffee was originally added to IARC’s list of possible carcinogens in 1991 based on a small number of studies that suggested a possible link to bladder cancer.
While the findings were welcomed by the food and beverage injury, other experts said the public should continue to focus on quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption to reduce their cancer risk, rather than waiting for their drinks to cool.
The Lyon-based IARC last year also created headlines worldwide by saying processed and red meats can cause cancer.
mm/sms (AFP, AP)