Coffee is good for you--unless it's not!

November 2016

Featured article by: Chris Kessler

            When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you think about? Feeding the dogs? Getting the kids ready? Or is it… coffee? If you (perhaps guiltily) answered yes to the latter of these questions, you aren’t alone—and this article is for you.

            We live in a coffee-crazed nation, where our daily cup of joe is so deeply engrained in our subconscious that we often feel we can’t function without it. In fact, in America alone, 400 million cups of coffee are consumed per day, costing a grand total of 30 billion U.S. dollars.  So the question presents itself, is this espresso epidemic helping or harming our overall health? In his article, “Coffee is good for you—unless it’s not”, Chris Kessler explores the often contradicting theories concerning the health effects of caffeine consumption.

            Before you kick your Keurig to the curb, it’s important to note that there are proven health benefits of coffee. Coffee consumption has been linked to decreased risk of health issues such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, drinking 4-5 cups of coffee per day also has the potential to lower depression rates in women. Although there is not much research proving why coffee has these positive effects, they are certainly still worth noting.

            But before you run to your nearest Starbucks, it’s important to note that coffee has also been linked to negative health effects—but these effects are only experienced by some people. So why aren’t effects identical across the board? To explain, caffeine is broken down by an enzyme in the liver. This enzyme is encoded for by a gene called CYP1A2. As it turns out, 50% of the population have a variation in this gene which causes slow processing of caffeine. For these people, drinking coffee can lead to higher risk of heart disease and hypertension as well as impaired fasting glucose. However, despite these negative effects, most large studies observe the overall effect of coffee to be positive.

            Confused? Allow me to clarify: in sum, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to diet. This holds true in all areas of nutrition, not just concerning the effects of caffeine. You don’t have the same genes, gut microbiome, or even activity level as your neighbor—so it should be expected that your bodies will respond to different foods in different ways. For example, caffeine consumed later in the day disrupts sleep in some people but not others. This is because our bodies process food based on various factors and characteristics unique to the individual.

            So now you’re probably wondering, how do I know if coffee is good for me? The following three steps will assist you in determining how your body reacts to caffeine:

1.     Firstly, I would suggest listening to the podcast “Is Drinking Coffee Good For You?” to understand the non-genetic factors that play a role in caffeine reactions.

2.     Next, try slowly removing caffeine from your diet and remain caffeine-free for 30 days. Then, re-introduce it to your diet and pay close attention to if/how your body responds.

3.     Lastly, you can utilize websites like 23andme to find out if you are a “fast” or “slow” metabolizer. After creating an account, search for the gene “CYP1A2”. Once you’ve found it, locate the rs762551 SNP under the search results. Find the variants of that SNP (on the same page) and look for AA (this means you’re a fast metabolizer), AC or CC (slow metabolizer).

            In total, it is critical to understand the individualized nature of nutrition. There exists no “one-size-fits-all” method when it comes to your body’s unique needs. In terms of caffeine, effects and reactions depend on both genetic makeup and individual factors including gut microbiome, lifestyle, and stress levels. If you consider coffee as a staple in your every day routine, it may be a good idea to utilize the afore-mentioned steps to find out if you are a “fast” or “slow” metabolizer of caffeine. Taking these precautions will allow you to understand the long-term implications of your latte love affair.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.