Coffee and I have had quite the relationship the past 5-6 years. We’ve been on and off. We typically break up, and then a month later I’m running back. Its the definition of an unhealthy relationship. But, I’ve finally decided to cut the ties for good now, and I’ll tell you why in this post.
The debate about whether or not coffee is good or bad for human health totally depends on your genotype. Yes, your genes!
Caffeine is metabolized by an enzyme in the liver encoded by the CYP1A2 gene. Now, this gene dictates whether or not you are a “slow metabolizer” or a “fast metabolizer” or caffeine. If you are a “fast metabolizer”, all of the claims promoting health benefits of coffee are true for you- lower risk of cancer & heart disease, provides protective antioxidants, etc. BUT, if you are a “slow metabolizer” of caffeine, coffee can be very harmful and have the opposite effects. For slow metabolizers, coffee can actually raise your risk of heart disease, hypertension, may not have protective effects against cancer, and can impair fasting glucose levels.
So how do you know if you are a slow or fast metabolizer of caffeine?
- Slowly titrate yourself off all caffeine, remain off for 30 days, reintroduce and see how you feel!
- Genetic testing (like 23 And Me) can provide you with your individual genetic makeup, where you can look up your own CYP1A2 gene to see if you are a slow or fast metabolizer of caffeine. (If you’ve done 23andme, log in, go to “My account,” select “Browse raw data,” and type “CYP1A2” into the “Jump to a gene” search box. Once on the search results page, find the rs762551 SNP. In the far right column, it will show your variant of that SNP. If you are AA, you’re a fast metabolizer. If you are AC or CC, you’re a slow metabolizer — with CC being slower than AC).
There are also some non-genetic Factors that may influence your biological response to caffeine. You may want to avoid coffee if:
- You are currently experiencing Adrenal Fatigue
- You are overtraining with little recovery
- You are dealing with a chronic illness
- You are not sleeping well at night (hard to fall asleep, waking up multiple times)
- You feel more tired when you consistently drink coffee, so you drink more and more (most people are not very aware of this one)
- You feel jittery, restless, and anxious when you drink coffee
So why does this matter??.. What’s the point?
The point is, if you are a slow metabolizer of caffeine or if you are experiencing any of the non-genetic factors above yet still drinking coffee/caffeinated beverages daily, it could potentially be contributing to more complex health challenges over time.
A personal story on this:
Stu (my fiancé) is a competitive D1 Collegiate Track and Field athlete and Cross Country runner. His diet is essentially perfect for his own bioindividuality (mostly paleo, gluten free, loaded with nutrient dense properly prepared foods), his recovery and sleep are impeccable, and he is always taking care of the little things like stretching, strength & conditioning, etc.
Stu has also struggled with stage 1 hypertension for a few years now. WHAAAAT?! Crazy, right? Doesn’t make sense. We thought maybe he was allergic to something we didn’t already know about and completed comprehensive food allergy testing. Nothing. We thought maybe he needed more sleep and recovery from all of his training? Nothing. We tried a handful of other things- nothing. zip. nada. no change.
I came across the genotypes influence on caffeine metabolism one afternoon, and a light bulb went off. Stu had already completed the 23 And Me genetic testing in the past, so we logged in and checked out his CYP1A2 gene. Low and behold, he is a slow metabolizer of caffeine. The slowest actually, with a SNP variant of CC.
So of course, Stu stopped drinking coffee. Two weeks later we checked his blood pressure again. (His typical numbers were usually somewhere around 150/90) We were shocked when we read 113/62! This may sound low, but it actually falls into the “ideal blood pressure category”:
Stu hasn’t had coffee for about two months now and we’ve been checking his blood pressure regularly. He has stayed about 115/65 consistently! I also went off because I am experiencing a handful of the non-genetic factors listed above, and quite honestly- we both feel MUCH better being off of coffee and caffeine in general!
We both notice we have more energy throughout the day without afternoon crashes, were both sleeping better, and it’s really nice to not rely on a substance for a kick in the pants in the morning. It’s pretty awesome to wake up in the morning, eat a nutrient dense breakfast, and feel my own energy kick in from the good food I’m eating instead of coffee.
Deciding whats best for your own body can feel like a challenging task.
Simply being aware of your body and listening to what it feels like, enjoys, doesn’t like, etc. is a tough challenge for most people. I know it has been for me! I am still learning new ways I can listen to and respect my body. It’s a constant learning process.
All in all- I encourage you to be mindful. If you feel you may benefit from getting rid of caffeine and think you may be a slow metabolizer, or your body simply doesn’t respond well to coffee, try going off for 30 days. See how you feel. Better? Worse? Maybe you’ll even be interested in completing genetic testing and learning a whole host of new information about yourself. You know what they say… “The more you know…”