Much like Coca-Cola, the beverage villain of the 20th century, coffee used to be a guilty pleasure blamed for many ills but has since proven to have many health benefits, depending on your genetics.
Is coffee the new butter? Another food on the list of things that used to have a bad rep but has since been saved by science? There is an interesting and important link between coffee tolerance and individual genetic variants.
Until pretty recently the resounding message from doctors and dieticians has been clear and unanimous: Coffee is bad for your health. Limit or avoid it, regardless of any other factors.
Thankfully since then, in a much appreciated twist of events, Scientists have found that coffee consumption decreases the incidence of chronic diseases (including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and respiratory and kidney disease) and that generally speaking, people who drink coffee appear to live longer with its beneficial effect increasing with every extra cup per day, peaking at three to four cups per day.
So another round of cortados for everyone then?
Not exactly. It depends on your genes…
For individuals with a certain variant of the CYP1A2 gene that leads to slower caffeine processing, caffeine has the potential to build up in the bloodstream and, as a result, may do more harm than good.Dr Yael Joffe, CSO at 3X4 Genetics
How well we metabolize caffeine is largely determined by our genes – including the CYP1A2 gene.
For slow metabolizers, the negative side effects of caffeine consumption – insomnia, anxiety, digestive issues, hormone imbalances – will be experienced to a higher degree.
“On the other hand, fast metabolizers of caffeine – individuals who have two copies of the A variant – CYP1A2 AA- process caffeine more rapidly and might not have as great or as lasting of an effect, compared to slow metabolizers.” explains Dr Yael Joffe, Chief Science Officer at 3X4 Genetics.
For fast metabolizers, coffee, independent of other risk factors, will likely not increase the risk of heart attack and hypertension, and can for the most part be safely consumed.
What other lifestyle and biological factors affect caffeine tolerance?
The human body is a complex, interdependent organism. There are several other factors besides your genes that influence how coffee and caffeine might affect you:
- your general baseline diet,
- your levels of stress,
- the medications you’re on (such as the hormonal birth control for example),
- whether you smoke,
- your physical activity level,
- your gut microbiota,
- how well you’re sleeping (here’s a blog we posted about optimizing sleep –5 Helpful Hacks for Better Sleep Quality).
It’s also true that being a fast or slow metabolizer of caffeine isn’t binary (i.e. two possible speeds: fast or slow), but more of a spectrum (ranging from very slow to very fast).
Keep in mind that even if you are a fast metabolizer of caffeine, after all is said and done coffee is still a stimulant.
Caffeine activates the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline, increasing heart rate and putting the body into a temporary heightened state of ‘stress’ – something that can be great and useful l in acute situations but is less beneficial for our overall health if it’s happening regularly (most of the day every day, hello modern life).
Bottom line: When it comes to coffee, as with so many other popular foods, beverages and health practices, what works for one person doesn’t always work for another. Thanks to genetic testing, we can get to know our bodies better and take the guesswork out of nutrition…
Curious to discover more about your CYP 1A2 gene variants and how to maximize the beneficial effects of caffeine for your body?
Find out how “slow” or “fast” a metabolizer you are of caffeine by running a genetic test with 3X4 Genetics.
By knowing your genetic variations, you can adjust your daily caffeine intake accordingly and better manage your overall well-being.