Whether your body considers coffee to be poison or medicine could just hinge on your genetics.
There have been sound studies behind coffee consumption having the ability to decrease the risk of heart disease, but research has also showed how daily doses of caffeine could increase your risk of heart disease. So what’s the deal- is coffee heart healthy or not?
The link between caffeine and risk of heart disease seems to be dependent on the expression of one specific gene— called CYP1A2. Depending on what type of expression of this gene you have, caffeine can increase or decrease your risk of heart disease.
The two types of coffee gene expressions: Fast & Slow
By looking at the interaction of caffeine from coffee and genes, researchers at the University of Toronto have identified humans have what’s called a CYP1A2 gene, which is in charge of metabolising caffeine in the body. This gene tells the liver to make one of two enzymes- CYP1A2 fast and CYP1A2 slow.
If you have the fast expression of this gene, caffeine from coffee is processed, metabolized, and eliminated from the body quickly. Drinking 2-4 cups of coffee a day has been shown to decrease your chances of heart disease.
But, the same study revealed that if you have the slow expression of this gene, 2-4 cups of caffeine from coffee a day lingers in your blood stream. This slow metabolism of caffeine is associated with an increased risk in heart disease.
The CYP1A2 gene expression also determines whether a coffee drinker will experience increased blood pressure, jitters, anxiety, depression, trouble breathing, vomiting, fever, disrupted sleep, PMS, adrenal exhaustion, stomach pains, and other well-documented unpleasantries sometimes accompanied by caffeine.
The slow expression of the gene means you’re more likely to experience the symptoms of caffeine overload drinking a small to moderate amount.
The gene mapping company FitnessGenes says that 40 percent of people are fast metabolizers, 45 percent have both a slow and a fast copy, and 15 percent carry two copies of the slow allele.
How do you know what expression of the coffee gene you have?
Technically, the only way to know which expression of the CYP1A2 gene you have is through gene mapping.
- CaffeineGEN: Consumer Genetics Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., offers a test called CaffeineGEN to tell whether a person has a “slow” or “fast” caffeine-metabolizing gene. The cost of CaffeineGEN: $139 for a standard test, with results in seven business days, or $179 for “express” results in three days.
- 23andme: If you have $199 to spare, and you’d like to learn what caffeine gene expression you have along with more about your genes and health in general, check out 23andme.com.
If you don’t want to spend the time or money on genetic testing, you could go the route of seeing how your body feels when you slowly ween yourself off of coffee and then re-introduce it.
If you opt for the ‘listen to your body’ approach, you do have to keep in mind there can be other factors effecting how your body feels and if you experience. As well, keep a look out for any of the negative symptoms associated with the slow expression of the gene I mentioned above.
Tips on how to drink coffee to maximize the health benefits
Chances are, if you drink coffee, you enjoy it, and you’ll probably keep drinking it. After all, 83% of adults in the US drink an average of 3 cups of coffee a day. Whether or not you know you have the fast or slow expression of the CYP1A2 gene, here’s how you can maximize your morning-jo health benefits.
- Drink it black:
The most important thing when trying to maximize your morning cup of jo is to not add anything unhealthy to your daily dose of coffee. So avoid putting any sugar, artificial sweeteners, or creamers in your mug. If you really find it unbearable to drink coffee black, try adding skim, almond, coconut, or soy milk instead of heavy cream or whole milk.
- Avoid unfiltered coffee:
Unfiltered preparations of coffee such as Turkish or French press contains cafestol, a substance that can increase cholesterol levels. Instead you want to try and brew coffee with a paper filter.
- Not too hot:
Drinking coffee, tea and other beverages at temperatures hotter than 149 degrees Fahrenheit may lead to cancer of the esophagus, according to research published in Lancet Oncology earlier this year.
Dr. Mosqueras Recommendations for Do’s and Dont’s
I don’t expect everyone to read this and immediately look into getting gene mapping done, so I asked Chief Medical Officer at Saludmóvil Dr. Mosquera what his recommendations on coffee are.
People who want to avoid coffee in general: “There are people who may not have the slow expression of the coffee gene that still definitely want to avoid or severely limit coffee consumption. Research has shown Pregnant women, people with anxiety issues, children, and people with high blood pressure or insomnia might also want to avoid or severely limit coffee.” Notes Dr. Mosquera.
If you already drink coffee: “If you’re sipping coffee daily like me and you enjoy it without the negative ‘jittery’ feelings, I’d say keep on sipping, but don’t go out of your way to drink more coffee. Even if you believe you have the fast gene expression, caffeine overdose can happen. If you beleive you have the slow expression but your body is benefiting from caffeine in other ways besides your heart health, try just lowering your amount of coffee or try decaf. The health benefits of sticking to a moderate 2-4 cups a day appear to far outweigh the negatives.” Says Dr. Mosquera
If you don’t already drink coffee: “I don’t think the health benefits are a compelling enough reason to start drinking coffee. There are downsides. I would say keep not drinking Coffee.” Recommends Dr. Mosquera.
One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to nutrition
Coffee is a great example of how there’s truly no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to diet. While we all have a lot in common, we also have important differences: lifestyle, environment, activity level, genes, gene expression, metabolic activity, and numerous other factors which differ from person to person. All of these will impact how our bodies will respond to a particular food or beverage.