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Ask Dr. Nandi: Is decaf coffee harmful to health?

Posted at 6:04 PM, Jun 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-19 18:04:51-04

(WXYZ) — Drinking coffee has been linked to numerous health benefits but what about decaffeinated coffee? Potent chemicals can be used to remove caffeine from coffee - and this has many people wondering if it's harmful to your health.

There are a few different ways to strip caffeine from coffee. Unroasted coffee beans are either soaked or steamed. And a mix of water and other chemicals like activated charcoal, liquid carbon dioxide, ethyl acetate and methylene chloride are used to extract the caffeine.

Now the health concern is linked to methylene chloride. This colorless liquid does not occur naturally in our environment and is used in industrial products like paints, adhesives and pesticide products. And if you inhale small amounts of methylene chloride, it can affect your attention and slow down your central nervous system. And you might also cough, wheeze, feel drowsy, lightheaded and possible develop a headache.

The Food and Drug Administration does allow methylene chloride to be used, but, the end product must not contain more than 0.001% of residual methylene chloride. So a very very tiny amount.

A study looking at data from over 200 observational studies did not find any harmful health effects linked to decaffeinated coffee. In fact, a review of 21 studies published earlier this year found that drinking 3 cups of coffee per day, either decaffeinated or not, could reduce death from any cause by up to 13 percent.

I think that may come as a surprise to some folks. Yes, decaf does contain some caffeine. The amount varies by brand but you can expect anywhere between 2 and 15 milligrams per 8 oz cup.

But this is still a lot lower than regular coffee which can be anywhere between 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine. So if you’re looking to eliminate caffeine entirely from your diet, then you should pass on the decaf and find other healthier alternatives.