Coffee: Elixir of Life or Poison?
Updated: Feb 28
Well it depends.
Are you a slow or fast caffeine metabolizer?
In the fast-paced society we live in, coffee is everywhere! Some people feel they “need” it to function in the morning, while others try to do what they can to function without it. For some, it can be extremely healthy and beneficial to have, while it can also lead to an increased risk of some dangerous side effects for others. If you're wondering what category you fall into, read on!
Personally, Austin and I love coffee. We love everything about it. We used to sip on it throughout the morning on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we have recently discovered that it is only something we can have in moderation. We realized this when we swapped intensive CrossFit training for a rejuvenating daily yoga practice. Since we were only hitting the gym a couple of days a week, we found ourselves anxiety-ridden due to consuming too much caffeine without having an outlet to burn off the extra energy. This experience is what prompted me to do more research on slow and fast caffeine metabolizers in an attempt to uncover which category we fell into.
To determine whether coffee is good or bad for you, you first need to determine how you metabolize the caffeine in coffee. Unfortunately, we do not get to choose which category we fall into, it is 100% based on our genomes.
Let's first briefly explain how caffeine is processed in the body.
Caffeine is metabolized by an enzyme in the liver that is directed by the CYP1A2 gene. This enzyme is responsible for inactivating about 95% of all ingested caffeine. In other words, this CYP1A2 gene is what signals the liver enzyme that breaks down caffeine in the body. About 50 percent of the population (Yes, 50%) has a variant in the CYP1A2 gene that leads to the slow processing of caffeine. J.W. Langer, a clinical pharmacology lecturer at the University of Copenhagen claims that for these slow metabolizers, caffeine stays in the body longer, which leads to the physiological effects of caffeine lasting longer and becoming more pronounced. This means these people should probably only consume caffeine in moderation. Conversely, people without the variant are considered fast metabolizers and can drink multiple cups of coffee a day because their bodies can quickly clear caffeine from their systems.
So how do you know which category you fall into?
Since the exact gene that controls this process has been identified, you can take a genetic test to find out! Just google “Caffeine Metabolism Test” and you can easily find a company to help you figure it out. The downside to this is that it costs money. If you are not looking to pay to discover a definite truth, you can simply pay attention to how it affects you.
People who are slow metabolizers tend to get jittery and stay wired for up to nine hours after drinking caffeine. They are also more likely to experience negative side effects such as insomnia, anxiety, or upset stomach. Slow metabolizers should limit or avoid caffeine all together as it increases their risk of nonfatal heart attack and/or high blood pressure. It has also been found that coffee may not protect slow metabolizers from some of the cancers it protects fast metabolizers from.
Austin and I believe we fall into this category and so since discovering this, we have opted to keep caffeine to a minimum. We also never consume it past noon, AND we sip on it slowly when we do opt for some coffee. We haven't explored the world of decaf coffee yet, but that could be an option for slow metabolizers.
People who are fast metabolizers will feel more energetic and alert for only a couple of hours following the consumption of caffeine. Fast metabolizers are also less likely to experience any of the negative side effects of caffeine. The only likely negative side effect it can possibly have on these types of people is an increased risk of bone density loss.
Fast metabolizers are the people who can handle multiple shots of espresso in one drink or have coffee with dinner and still sleep well at night.
With all of this being said, there is good news! Caffeine can still be beneficial, even for slow metabolizers, when it comes to reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
The human body is extremely complex, and differences are going to be apparent from person to person. Coffee consumption is simply another example of nutrition being 100% person dependent. What is good for one person, could be harmful to others.
The goal, therefore, is always to figure out what works best for you and your body and practice moderation.