Every day, millions of people in North America, and possibly billions worldwide, deliberately expose themselves to a mixture of toxic chemicals. Over 1000 different chemicals have been identified in this mixture; while many of these chemicals have not been studied in detail, of those that have, almost 80% have been found to be carcinogens. The mixture includes potent carcinogens such as benzene, benzo(a)pyrene, acrylamide furans, benzofurans, isoeugenol, and 2-amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoxaline. It also includes hydrogen peroxide, as well as a host of chemicals with names like 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde and 3-methylcyclopentante-1,2 dione(3-methyl-2-hydroxycyclopent-2-ene-1-one). Most people consume more carcinogens from this mixture in a single day than their entire exposure to pesticides from eating non-organic fruits and vegetables for a year.
What is this mixture and why is no one doing anything about this?
The mixture is coffee. It really does contain all of those chemicals – even if you drink organic, fair trade, pesticide-free, shade grown, ultra-premium coffee. Despite containing all of those chemicals, of which only 22 have been properly evaluated (and 17 of those show evidence of carcinogenicity), coffee is not causing an epidemic of cancer. When the International Agency for Research on Cancer evaluated coffee, they concluded that there was at best limited evidence of an increased incidence of urinary bladder at very high coffee consumption rates, and no real evidence of any other type of cancer. In fact, there was even limited evidence of a possible protective effect for some cancers. This conclusion was based on numerous animal studies as well as several studies looking at humans.
What this tells us is that, particularly when looking at complex chemical mixtures, you can’t just assume toxicity because an individual chemical in the mixture may have a toxic effect. When you are exposed to a mixture, the individual chemicals may interact with each other, affecting metabolism and toxicity. You also have to consider that the dose of any individual chemical may be very low – below the level at which any toxic effect occurs. You can really only get a reliable indication of toxicity by looking at the complete mixture – in the case of coffee drinking a couple of cups a day is safe for most people.