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Furfuryl Alcohol: NCA Resource Page

Furfuryl alcohol (FFA) is a natural byproduct of the cooking process and appears in many foods and beverages, including wine, alcoholic beverages, pineapple juice, and coffee beans. 

In California, FFA was added to list of chemicals listed under Proposition 65 as carcinogenic. However, there is no scientific evidence linking FFA with cancer in humans. The listing was based on studies in which FFA was inhaled, rather than consumed. There is no study on FFA occurring naturally in foods.

Coffee has been linked to many health benefits. After a recent review, the World Health Organization concluded that there is no evidence that coffee causes cancer. And in 2015, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines included coffee in its recommendations, stating that three to five cups of coffee a day can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

FAQ: Furfuryl Alcohol

What is Furfuryl Alcohol (FFA)? 

Furfuryl Alcohol (FFA) is a naturally occurring byproduct of heating and appears in many foods and beverages. A few examples include wine, alcoholic beverages, pineapple juice, and coffee beans. 

Does consuming FFA cause cancer?

There is no scientific evidence linking consumption of FFA with cancers in humans. All currently published animal cancer research on exposure to FFA is focused on inhalation and not ingestion, making it difficult to interpret whether ingestion could pose a risk like inhaling large amounts of FFA. The animal inhalation data suggests a link between FFA and nasal tumors and possible kidney toxicity.   

Scientifically, the physiological effects of respiratory versus dietary exposure are distinct, something we witness in our everyday lives. We can safely swallow a mouthful of pool water treated with chlorine, for example, but chlorine gas is deadly. We drink the hydrogen that makes up water, but hydrogen gas is toxic and explosive. 

Why is FFA on the Proposition 65 List in California?

In California, FFA’s appearance on the state’s Proposition 65 list of carcinogenic compounds is based entirely on its inhalation effect. The state’s Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) added FFA to the Proposition 65 list via the “authoritative body” route, based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) findings. The EPA findings are based on available inhalation data and were examined because EPA was investigating risk of certain compounts in pesticides.

Can FFA be measured in foods?

Due to the nature of heat-formed FFA, concentrations found in foods and beverages are difficult to measure. Research suggests that FFA is a volatile compound, and so may dissipate in further processing, serving or even storage. For many foods and beverages, the scientific evidence is clear that they are not carcinogenic, and so remaining FFA levels are irrelevant. For coffee, the evidence against carcinogeneity is particularly strong and widely acknowledged. 

What do the experts say about coffee and cancer?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, has declared that there is no evidence that coffee causes cancer in humans. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, includes coffee as part of a healthy lifestyle – the first time a food or beverage has been cited individually in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

How does FFA relate to coffee?

Many foods and beverages, like coffee, are composed of hundreds of individual compounds. The sum is greater than – and bears little resemblance to – its individual parts. As a beverage, research from the past decade is overwhelming that coffee is associated with an array of significant, favorable health outcomes, including reducing the risk of diabetes, protecting the liver against cirrhosis, lowering the risks of developing many types of cancers, preserving cognition, and increasing longevity. 

FFA is but one of hundreds of compounds in coffee, which together combine in unique ways to create coffee’s health-promoting and possible cancer-fighting properties. Other compounds in coffee have also been linked with health benefits, including:

  • Methylpyridinium - Associated with reducing the risk of colorectal cancers
  • Cafestol - Associated with killing leukemia cells in the laboratory
  • Caffeine - Associated with warding off dementia
  • Chlorogenic acid - Associated with lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes