Study: Life can kill you. Or maybe not

It is a truth, of course, that nobody gets out of life alive, which puts coffee drinkers today in a position to evaluate the meaning of life in a very real way: Is life worth living if we don’t enjoy what might make it shorter?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, has found that coffee is “unclassifiable” in matters of cancer. That is, there isn’t enough evidence to determine whether it could be bad for your health in the long run

Ah, the long run? The sprint to… where, exactly?

What good is any scientific evaluation if it can’t raise at least the faint aroma of danger? And so the IARC did, Vox reports today.

It said very hot beverages are “probably” carcinogenic.

This was based on evidence from hot beverage–loving countries like China, Iran, Turkey, and Argentina. There, researchers uncovered positive associations between people who drink hot teas or maté (a traditional South American caffeine drink) and esophageal cancer.

The risk here has to do with how very hot beverages damage the lining of the esophagus, potentially paving the way for esophageal cancer. As Mariana Stern, an associate professor at the Keck School of Medicine at USC who worked with the IARC, explained in a statement, “There is physical evidence that very hot beverages can contribute to cell injury in the esophagus and thus contribute to cancer formation.”

“Enjoy your coffee or maté, but make sure it’s not very hot,” she added.

Because there’s nothing like a warm cup of coffee to make one savor a moment in life?

How scared we are of the risk of dying!

It doesn’t help that studies like this are poor when it comes to helping us assess that risk, as an editorial on the subject, Lancet Oncology, the British medical journal, points out this month:

These latest disputes regarding carcinogen classification highlight the problem of determining reliable findings when data are equivocal and where there are vested interests. They also highlight the difficulties of translating carcinogenicity research into appropriate health policies and recommendations for risk management. Furthermore, there is an equally clear need for a standardised, internationally agreed methodology for carcinogen assessment, alongside ways of presenting results that are easily understood and accepted by all interested parties. Until these objectives are met, carcinogen definition and regulation will continue to be the poor relation to other cancer preventative measures.

At the same time, coffee in general is seen as part of a healthy diet, the NY Times’ Well blog points out.

It is not entirely clear why. But scientists say coffee contains many antioxidants and other compounds that are being studied for their anti-cancer properties. Studies have linked decaffeinated coffee consumption to lower rates of chronic disease too, suggesting coffee’s benefits are not simply due to caffeine.

Coffee’s benefits are that we enjoy it, even good and hot.

There are worse ways to go.