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Coffee Is Not A Carcinogen — Unless It's Too Hot

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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
As with wine and chocolate, we love touting coffee's potential health benefits. Recent studies have found it may help prevent liver damage, heart disease, and may even motivate you to work out. Nevertheless, the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified coffee as "possibly carcinogenic," or a potential risk factor for cancer, since the early '90s. But today, with a new report published in the Lancet journal, the agency has finally reversed its stance.

The 23 researchers behind the report reviewed over 1,000 studies on coffee's effects on humans and animals, only to find that there simply isn't enough evidence to consider coffee carcinogenic. And since most people seem to view coffee more as a coping mechanism than a mere beverage, this is great news, right?

Unfortunately, there's a catch — especially if you prefer hot coffee. Based on limited evidence from the studies they reviewed, the researchers found a link between oesophageal cancer and drinks that are very hot (at or above 70 degrees Celsius, or 158 degrees Fahrenheit). "The majority of oesophageal cancers occur in parts of Asia, South America, and East Africa, where regularly drinking very hot beverages is common and where the reasons for the high incidence of this cancer are not as well understood," IARC director Christopher Wild, PhD, said in a press release.

Why does temperature make such a difference? Previous studies suggest that extremely hot beverages may damage the oesophagus' mucus lining, making it easier for other carcinogens (like the ones in tobacco) to permeate the lining. It may also be that the heat itself damages the cells over time.

Luckily, the chances that you've been drinking coffee this hot are slim to none. In fact, the average cup of coffee is served at 60 degrees celsius in the U.S. So, enjoy your cup of joe the way you wish, but maybe double-check just how extra-hot that extra-hot latte is.

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