When Our Favorite Flavorings Meet DNA
April 8, 2013

When Our Favorite Flavorings Meet DNA

DNA is tricky. Just about all that we do affects it in some way. Well, a new study recently published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology has found some interesting data on how coffee, teas, and liquid smoke affect our DNA. CNN recently posted an article outlining the results.

The results of the study showed that coffee, teas, and liquid smoke all cause the repair gene p53 to activate. The gene p53 works to protect cells from becoming cancerous when DNA is damaged. It is sent to repair our DNA. Study researchers found their results by tagging p53 in human cells with a fluorescent marker that would then glow when the gene was activated to do its job.

Then researchers added diluted amounts of foods and flavorings including coffee, tea, liquid smoke, fish, smoked paprika, and wasabi powder. Then the cultures sat for 18 hours. What they  found was that those cultures with coffee, tea, and liquid smoke all began to glow thus indicating p53 was active and hard at work. Though the other flavors and foods had some p53 activation, they did not have the same high levels that coffee, tea, and liquid smoke did.

So, why do the former three cause the activation of p53? The study found that they share the chemicals pyrogallol and gallic acid, which the researchers believe damaged the DNA. Though this study did not find out what damage the chemicals have on DNA, the harm is enough to activate p53 so that it can start repairing us.

According to study author Dr. Scott Kern, the Kovler Professor of Oncology and Pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “We found that liquid smoke, when diluted a thousand fold, was still as strong as the concentration of etoposide in a cancer patient being treated with etoposide. In fact, it works much the same way. Etoposide in cancer patients damages DNA, that’s how you get rid of the cancers, but it also has side effects.”

Despite the similarities in the effects of coffee, tea, and liquid smoke as compared to a chemotherapy drug, that does not mean that we should immediately cut these three out of our daily diets. It also does not mean that there is no concern at all. What it means is that a study has found a connection between our beloved coffee and tea to DNA and p53.

I know I will not stop enjoying coffee and tea. Studies have found that coffee benefits us in many ways including diabetes and depression. Tea also has nutritional value that makes it beneficial. I appreciate that this study found a connection between these flavors and DNA damage and p53 gene repair, but that does not mean that we should be overly concerned.

Plants try to protect themselves from animals. They do so by having physical protection, like the prickly thorn of the rose, as well as through making poisons and such. Animals, including humans, have been adapting and adjusting for years. It could be that the damage caused from these flavorings may just be something that we are well equipped to handle. If p53 is active and doing its job, then perhaps that is what it is supposed to do.

In short, I am still going to wake up tomorrow — and the next day and the next — and enjoy my cup of coffee or tea. Studies are important for gathering information, but we should never jump to conclusions. Until further research proves serious and irrevocable damage, I will proceed as usual with my cup of coffee in hand.

Image Credit: air009 / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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