Don’t Spill My Beans by Pat Conrad MD

On the rare morning when I stumble into work and am immediately peppered with coding questions from the day before, or patient’s families’ complaints that they couldn’t videotape me suturing a drunk relative, I will give an acid, acrylamide-free stare at whichever offending staff member, and quietly growl, “You are asking me questions before I’ve had coffee.”  The inevitable and proper response is that I or anyone else pours a cup quickly before I have cerebral artery vasospasm.

Acrylamide is, if you hadn’t read, the agent now claimed to cause cancer to coffee drinkers.  The chemical is a natural byproduct of coffee roasting.  “Acrylamide in food is a product of the Maillard reaction. This reaction occurs when sugars and amino acids are heated above 248° F, or 120° C…Acrylamide levels peak early in the heating process and then decline. So lighter colored coffee beans have more acrylamide than darker ones that are roasted longer.”

This chemical is also present “naturally when many foods are cooked – French fries, potato chips, crackers, bread, cereal, cooked asparagus and canned olives, to name a few.”  Of course there has not been a solitary single incident of a cancer case being linked to heavy acrylamide ingestion in any human; lab animals fed 1,000-100,000 the typical human doses have gotten cancer.  Admittedly this puts a bean hound such as myself at a higher risk, but I like living on the edge.

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Which is a problem for these furtive, gnawing minds:  “a little-known not-for-profit group sued some 90 coffee retailers, including Starbucks, on grounds they were violating a California law requiring companies to warn consumers of chemicals in their products that could cause cancer.” 

Like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (not them in this instance, but I hate those bastards), another fringe do-gooder group has gotten the ear of the media, this time through the courts.

“The lawsuit was filed in 2010 by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT). It calls for fines as large as $2,500 per person for every exposure to the chemical since 2002 at the defendants’ shops in California.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruled that Starbucks Corp. and other coffee sellers must put a cancer warning on coffee sold in California.  This robed idiot determined that “Starbucks and other companies had failed to show there was no significant risk from a carcinogen produced in the coffee roasting process, court documents showed.”  “Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health.”

Failed to show there was no risk?  I’m not a philosopher by training, but isn’t there some maxim that one cannot disprove a negative?  After study upon study suggesting health benefits accrued to consumption of the aromatic elixir, one whiny non-profit can threaten with millions in fines an entire industry that delivers so much improved quality of life, particularly before 9AM?

Virtually every pleasurable and life-affirming activity practiced by humans has some associated mortality rate, however miniscule.  We seem to have an inexhaustible supply of busybodies trying to suck any joy out of life, and we physicians can play one of our most valuable roles by providing the public, and especially our patients, with a little perspective.  Enjoy your life, apply moderation in all things, be happy.  And for crying out loud, have a cup of coffee.

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  6 comments for “Don’t Spill My Beans by Pat Conrad MD

  1. Jennifer Hollywood
    April 9, 2018 at 11:56 am

    I once bought a bag of roasted peanuts at a farm stand. It had a warning that said, “Warning: May contain peanuts” I hope so because that is what I just purchased.

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  2. Steve O'
    April 7, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    Warning labels do not convey benefit to consumer. They are not intended to any more than the canned HR videos that warn employees not to upcode or cut corners or signs on dumpsters that say “DO NOT PLAY IN OR AROUND!” They are liability repellents.
    Bureaucrats depend on frustrating Deming’s principle in management. Deming said that if a business has a bad event, 85% of the time it is a systemic failure, 15% of the time it’s operator error.
    Bureaucrats insist that it’s the meatslave’s fault, always. With the commodification of professional services like locum tenens, why shouldn’t the organization fink out the doctor?
    Rather than ascertaining liability, the courts are shown the “Do not err!” and to err is human, so convict the human of negligence.
    Preventing cancer? Not the point. Reminding people that all shortcomings are due to careless and vile humans – cops, teachers, doctors-the Watching Professions adulate themselves. “Doctors kill so many, so do cops! We quality-review everything and look how awful things are!!”
    That’s how entities and gonernments age and die. If nobody stops the charade, nature will take its course.

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  3. LJSlossMD
    April 7, 2018 at 10:13 am

    Though in general I do not mind the mother hen approach to life’s risks, and I can take the advice or leave it without feeling any emotional surge. On the other hand, putting warning labels on everything does produce a cumulative negative vibe that slightly dilutes my pleasure level as I forge on through my day. I do think there has to be some threshold of potential toxicity below which the compulsive natterers should keep their peace, and some discretion observed with respect to belaboring the obvious.

    Warning labels on alcoholic beverages are for me on the edge, and I strongly doubt that their implementation has in any way decreased the incidence of drunkenness or fetal alcohol syndrome; the problem of problem drinking has nothing to do with ignorance of risk. The logic of putting warning labels on coffee seems to require (for instance) prominent labels on automobiles pointing out the risk of traffic fatalities and road rage, and even warning labels on socks as a possible risk factor for lumbago.

    My advice: relax, use good sense, and bash on regardless.

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    • Perry
      April 7, 2018 at 3:38 pm

      By the same token, companies have to cover their asses by putting warnings like :
      “Do not use electric hairdryer while in the tub” because stupid Americans have done it and won lawsuits over it.
      My favorite is ” Coffee may be very hot”

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      • Steve O'
        April 8, 2018 at 12:01 am

        Yes, one jackpot for a customer who can cause self-injury. Did you know that counted in the beastly “medical error” category is deliberate overdose a.k.a. suicide? Next are the “do not overdose” labels on pill containers. Except for opiate overdoses-those are the doctors’ fault.

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    • Chris
      April 10, 2018 at 11:09 am

      There actually is some real societal harm in warning about everything in that when you do so people get “warning fatigue” and thusly begin to ignore ALL safety warnings. Its the reason I turned off the drug interactions part of my EMR and throw away the stack of drug interaction notifications the nursing home pharmacy puts in my box each month.

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