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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114200cookie-checkDon’t Spill My Beans by Pat Conrad MD