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.


If Living Healthy is so Important to Longevity, Why Do Some Unhealthy People Live so Long?

Did you know that people who live to be 95 are just as likely to make unhealthy lifestyle choices as anyone else? At least that’s what one study from the Yeshiva Institute for Aging found. Smoking, drinking, failing to exercise, eating processed foods—some people do these things all their lives and somehow still manage to outlive their healthier peers. Likewise, some people who make all the right choices (eating Paleo, exercising, wearing sunscreen etc.) are sometimes the ones who get the sickest. 

People who do end up living to 95+ are a rarity (~ .01% of the population). But several studies have shown this to group to smoke, drink, and lead sedentary life-styles just as much, or, in some cases, even more than the general population. At first, this might seem absolutely baffling. You might be wondering: is all my work to stay healthy done in vain if people who do just the opposite outlive me?

The answer is: of course not. The real story behind these long-lived, yet unhealthy people is luck—more specifically, the luck of winning the genetic lottery. Oftentimes, people who live to be very old simply have longevity encoded within their genes. They might interact with environmental factors differently than others. Their good genes work to counteract the effects of bad behavior and bad habits. Some genes not only slow down cellular aging, but also provide an anti-aging effect—giving some people a huge advantage when it comes to living a long, if unhealthy, life.

Now you might be wondering, how do I know if I’m one of these people? Well, you can’t—that is, until you actually live to be very old. In other words, only time will tell if you made out with the genetic winnings—and the odds aren’t in your favor. For 99.9% of us, life-style choices matter a great deal. While a small segment of the population might seem to defy the idea that how we live our lives dictates how old we live to be, the fact is, these people are the exception to the rule; they’re going to live a long time no matter what. The rest of us actually do have control over how long we do or don’t live; which is really a good thing if you think about it.

But we don’t always have complete control. On the other side of the spectrum, you could practice healthy habits your whole life and still fall victim to disease, particularly cancer. My wife is one of these people. In spite of exercising, eating healthy, and controlling for environmental toxins, she became a victim of breast cancer four years ago. A study from Johns Hopkins found that most incidences of cancer are caused not by unhealthy lifestyles, but by plain old bad luck—as is my wife’s case. Again the question arises: is all your work towards staying healthy done in vain?

The answer, again, is: of course not! The study found 22 cancers that were tied to random gene mutations—but nine others, including skin cancer, colorectal, and lung cancer, were proven to be tied to environmental and life-style factors. Breast cancer was not evaluated in the study.

The moral of the story is that some cancers (particularly some of the most common forms) leave more room than others for taking measures of prevention. I.e., what you choose to eat and put on your skin does affect your risk of developing some forms of cancer. Additionally, several studies have shown that healthy living tends to turn off cancer-promoting genes and turn on cancer-suppressing genes—more evidence that making healthy choices does affect our risk of developing cancer.

At the end of the day, the work you do to stay healthy matters. A combination of conventional medicine and holistic health almost certainly has a meaningful effect on how old we live to be. And even if you do happen to be one of those people who will live to be 100 no matter what, or one of those people who unfairly falls victim to disease, living healthy will, at the very least, improve the quality of however many years you do live—whether that’s 45, 75, or 100+.