Coffee health study throws doubt on IARC glyphosate carcinogen finding

Scientists at Imperial College London and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have discovered that coffee reduces the risk of death from all disease.

The findings come from the largest study of its kind, in which scientists analysed data from more than half a million people across 10 European countries, including the UK, to explore the effect of coffee consumption on risk of mortality.

Researchers from the IARC and Imperial College London found that higher levels of coffee consumption were associated with a reduced risk of death, particularly from circulatory diseases and diseases related to the digestive tract.

In 2016, IARC had down-graded its 1991 cancer classification of coffee from 2B to 3. Group 2B is possibly carcinogenic to humans. Group 3 is not classifiable as to carcinogenicity.

IARC judged that the extensive scientific literature does not show evidence of an association between coffee consumption and cancer.

Not only did IARC find no clear association between coffee intake and cancer at any body site, it also found that in some cases, there is evidence that coffee drinking may actually help reduce occurrence of certain cancers; specifically, cancers of the liver and uterine endometrium.

In a 2015 assessment of glyphosate, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organiaation, found that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic."

Glyphosate manufacturers said this poured doubt on IARC's findings on glyphosate.

The original IARC finding that glyphosate is a carcinogen led the European Commission to delay its decision on whether to re-license European Union-wide sale of herbicides containing glyphosate and accelerated worldwide campaigns against it.

However, the EPA, the European Food Safety Authority, and others have all concluded that glyphosate does not cause cancer. 

IARC has evaluated more than 989 substances and activities on a hazard rather than risk basis.

Dr Marc Gunter, of IARC, said: "We found that higher coffee consumption was associated with a lower risk of death, and specifically for circulatory diseases, and digestive diseases.

"Importantly, these results were similar across all of the 10 European countries, with variable coffee drinking habits and customs. Our study also offers important insights into the possible mechanisms for the beneficial health effects of coffee.

In the latest coffee study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers carried out the largest analysis of the effects of coffee-drinking in a European population - where coffee consumption and preparation methods vary, from an espresso in Italy, to a cappuccino in the UK.

Using data from the EPIC study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition), the group analysed data from 521,330 people from over the age of 35 from 10 EU countries, including the UK, France, Denmark and Italy.

People's diets were assessed using questionnaires and interviews, with the highest level of coffee consumption (by volume) reported in Denmark (900ml per day) and lowest in Italy (approximately 92ml per day).

Those who drank more coffee were also more likely to be younger, to be smokers, drinkers, eat more meat and less fruit and veg.

After 16 years of follow up, almost 42,000 people in the study had died from a range of conditions including cancer, circulatory diseases, heart failure and stroke.

Following careful statistical adjustments for lifestyle factors such as diet and smoking, the researchers found that the group with the highest consumption of coffee had a lower risk for all-causes of death, compared to those who did not drink coffee.

In a subset of 14,000 people, they also analysed metabolic biomarkers, and found that coffee drinkers may have healthier livers overall and better glucose control than non-coffee drinkers.

Dr Gunter added: "We found that drinking more coffee was associated with a more favourable liver function profile and immune response.

"This, along with the consistency of the results with other studies in the US and Japan gives us greater confidence that coffee may have beneficial health effects."

Meanwhile, the European Union will only extend its approval for the herbicide glyphosate if there is sufficient support from the bloc's 28 member states, European Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis has said.

The European Commission decided to propose extending approval for glyphosate by 10 years after the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) said in a study in March that it should not be classified as a substance causing cancer. 

Andriukaitis told reporters during a meeting of EU agriculture ministers that he had no reason to doubt that glyphosate was safe but it was up to national governments to agree to extend the approval.

"I wanted to make clear that the Commission has no intention to reapprove this substance without the support of a qualified majority of member states. This is and will remain a shared responsibility," he said.

France and Germany have abstained from voting, forcing the Commission to extend the license by 18 months at the end of June 2016 to give the ECHA time to study the chemical further.

A committee of experts from EU nations will hold a first discussion of the issue this week, with a vote expected later in the year.

A qualified majority for a proposal means 16 of 28 member states must vote in favour and the support must come from countries representing at least 65% of the EU population.

Meanwhile, Germany seems to be behind a 10-year renewal of glyphosate. France did not give its position on the renewal, nor did Italy, Poland and Spain. The UK and Denmark want the maximum amount available under EU law at 15 years.

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