Is coffee a cancer risk?

First off – don’t panic. 🙂 Keep drinking your coffee while you read this.

A judge in California has ruled that coffee companies have to display a warning that coffee poses a cancer risk, due to the presence of acrylamide, a chemical produced in the roasting process.  It’s true, too…this is nasty stuff, discovered in 2002.  Lab studies have shown an increased risk of cancer, though the levels used around 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than what people would be exposed to in food.  It’s not just in coffee though…it’s found in potato chips, bread, cereals, french fries, cigarettes, even canned black olives.  California has a law, though (Proposition 65) requiring consumers to be informed if the product they’re buying contains dangerous chemicals…hence this court ruling.  So…sure, acrylamide can cause cancer at high levels…but so can a lot of other things we are exposed to.

On the flip side, coffee has been shown to have positive health benefits too, being linked to a reduced risk of death from heat disease, stroke, diabetes, neurological disease, etc.  So…no need to panic, if you ask me.  Just enjoy everything in moderation. 🙂

Read more about acrylamide at the American Cancer Society if you’re interested.

Study looks at the effect of cannabis extract on brain cancer

I’ve seen plenty of stories about people using cannabis to treat brain cancer and other medical problems, but there hasn’t been a lot of hard science looking at this treatment.  That’s where this new study is particular interesting, for it does just that – looks at the effects of using two cannabis extracts, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), both by themselves, and also in conjunction with irradiation.  The result showed a clear benefit of the cannabis extracts, and the best results were when the treatment included both those extracts and the irradation – where the tumors virtually disappeared.  Pretty promising stuff…read more here.

Pepsi decides to stop using a known carcinogen

The power of corporate greed is such that, even after 4-methylimidazole was found to cause cancer, Pepsi continued to ship product containing it.  They removed it from product sold in California after a new law requiring labeling of carcinogens, but it’s taken until now for them to commit to removing it nationwide (and even then, not until around the end of 2013).  Well, at least they’re finally taking this step.  You’re probably still better off sticking with tap water though!

(via smartplanet)

Roundup herbicide linked to cancer, autism, parkinson’s alzheimer’s

Well I think the title says it all…Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide is really nasty stuff that studies are showing has a link to some really nasty human diseases.  Add to that the increased use of crops that have been genetically modified to be roundup-resistant, and you should start being concerned about the safety of your food supply.  Do yourself a favor and either buy organic foods, or grow your own vegetables!  (read more at The Good Human)

TSA to stop using all x-ray body scanners

rapiscansecure1000sp__small_customThe TSA has announced that it plans to remove all x-ray (or backscatter, as it’s also known) body scanners and use only the radio-wave based scanners.  The backscatter technology has received much criticism over health concerns and a lack of scientific testing to show they’re safe, and while the TSA finally started investigating the health risks associated with those machines in December of 2012, they say the decision to stop using these machines is due to the company’s inability to provide a timely software upgrade that would replace the actual image of the passenger with an avatar or other abstract graphical representation.

I’d written about the concerns with backscatter technology previously, and am hesitant to get too excited about this news.  My concern now is that the study into the health effects will be terminated (as it should, to save money), yet OPI Systems (the backscatter scanner manufacturer) will upgrade their software and slightly change their hardware to allow them to release a ‘new’ model of scanner later this year which the TSA will then accept as a replacement for the 174 backscatter machines currently due to be sent back to OPI.  Since it’s a ‘new’ machine, it’ll restart the clock, so to speak, for getting the TSA to begin investigating the health impact of it, then there will be a long, protracted study, etc, with the technology being used all the while.  Of course, that’s just my pessimistic speculation..for now, it’s a victory for health as the machines are due to be removed and replaced with a safer technology.If you’re curious..check out this link for a good side by side comparison of the two scanner technologies.

Rats fed GM corn die young (with tumors and organ damage)

Researchers in France fed rats a lifetime diet of Monsanto’s GM corn (NK603, to be specific), and found that 50% of the males and 70% of the females died prematurely (compared with 30% of the males and 20% of the females in the control group).  They suffered from mammary tumors, also severe liver and kidney damage (this is in stark contrast to the carefree life portrayed by French rats in Ratatouille).

What’s most interesting here, to me at least, is the implications.  Specifically…NK603 is a type of corn that’s tolerant to the pesticide Roundup…it wasn’t stated specifically, but I’m assuming that when growing NK603, they did so by using Roundup as intended.  Thus these deaths are not necessarily due to the genetic modification of the corn plant, but rather the pesticides that that modification allowed the use of.  In the end, perhaps it doesn’t matter, the result is dead rats…but I worry that a GM crop could be shown to be perfectly safe by itself, but use of that will result in secondary factors that lead to problems down the line.

I’m also disturbed by the article’s statement that GM crops are approved based upon a 90 day feeding trial.  As this study showed, there are lifetime impacts that need to be properly quantified…a mere 90 day test may be insufficient to expose long-term health impacts.

NK603 was approved for food use in the US in 2000.

You can read the full article at Reuters.

TSA body scanners

If you’ve flown anywhere in the past several years, you probably saw, or had to go through, a full-body scanner at the security checkpoint.  There are two technologies in use there.  One is a circular chamber that low powered millimeter waves, to see if you’re hiding anything under your clothes (this is referred to as a millimeter wave scanner).  There’s really little risk associated with this type of scanner, it’s not a big deal at all.  The other technology has you walk between two large blue or gray boxes, and uses low levels of ionizing radiation to perform the same function (this is referred to as a backscatter scanner).  A more detailed comparison of the two technologies can be viewed here.

So what’s the big deal?  Well, the problem is that the backscatter scanners have never been independently tested and shown to be safe.  The government says they’re safe (with little evidence to support that), while the scientific and medical community has serious concerns about their safety.  Apart from the lack of testing, there’s the basic principle in radiation safety that people should never be x-rayed unless there’s a medical benefit.  The risk is real enough that it’s believe that some number of people will get cancer every year from this (the exact number is unknown, but probably less than 100).

So, given that there is a safer alternative, why use backscatter technology at all?  Good question.  Europe has banned them altogether.   Thankfully, there’s now a bill in Congress that would require an independent study on the health and safety of these body scanning technologies.  In a perfect world they’d do the study BEFORE spending money buying and deploying so many of these, but hey, better late than money.  The reality is that lobbyists and corporate interests seem to be heavily influencing the use of these technologies in our country.

In the meantime, what can you do?  If you’re lucky, you can choose to fly to and from airports that are using the millimeter wave technology instead; there’s a very detailed list of what technologies are used at various airports over at  You may also find that airports that have the backscatter scanners installed only rarely use them, instead funneling people through traditional metal detectors.

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