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The health benefits of drinking coffee are pretty impressive.

It has been shown to enhance brain function, increase metabolic rate and improve exercise performance (1, 2, 3).

A regular intake has also been linked with a lower risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and type 2 diabetes (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

The health benefits of drinking coffee are pretty impressive. However, coffee also contains a potentially harmful chemical called acrylamide.
The health benefits of drinking coffee are pretty impressive. However, coffee also contains a potentially harmful chemical called acrylamide.

However, coffee also contains a potentially harmful chemical called acrylamide.

What is Acrylamide?

The chemical acrylamide (or acrylic amide) is a white, odorless, crystal compound. It has the chemical formula C3H5NO.

It’s used to make plastics and treat waste water, among other things.

Overexposure at work can cause damage to the nervous system and it’s also thought to increase the risk of cancer (13, 14, 15).

Day-to-day we are exposed to acrylamide through smoking and secondhand smoke, as well as personal care products and household items.

In 2002, Swedish scientists also discovered it in a wide range of foods, including baked goods and coffee (16).

Scientists believe the 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 (17, 18).

What we do know is that when coffee beans are roasted, acrylamide is formed. There’s no way to remove acrylamide from coffee, so when you drink it, you’re exposing yourself to the chemical (19).

Bottom Line: Acrylamide is a potentially harmful chemical formed during the coffee bean roasting process.

Is Acrylamide Really Harmful?

Acrylamide can definitely be harmful.

Yet, as is often the case in nutrition, the devil is in the dose.

Workplace exposure to very high doses of acrylamide can cause nerve damage and disorders of the nervous system (13, 14).

Studies in animals have also repeatedly shown that acrylamide causes cancer when eaten.

However, the doses given to animals have been 1000–100,000 times larger than the amounts humans are exposed to through diet.

Humans also metabolize acrylamide differently, so we are exposed to a lower dose of the chemical when our body breaks it down (20).

Unfortunately, there are few human studies on the safety of acrylamide in food and the results have been inconsistent (21).

It’s also important to keep in mind that acrylamide is not a new problem. Despite only recently being discovered in our food, it’s likely to have been there in some amount since man started cooking.

Bottom Line: Workplace exposure to high amounts of acrylamide can cause nerve damage. In very high doses, acrylamide is known to cause cancer in animals. We don’t know how much of it is safe for humans.

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