Health Risks of Coffee Depends on Your Genes

Coffee is the most widely used beverage worldwide with no shortage of purported health benefits. Coffee drinking has been associated with a decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and type II diabetes. images

From a fitness perspective (that’s what you’re here for after all!), studies have shown a metabolic boost from caffeine consumption, and a direct correlation with fat burning, by as much as 10% in obese individuals and 29% in lean people. Caffeine promotes lipolysis (breakdown of fatty acids into the bloodstream), and if consumed prior to exercise, you have the double whammy of the workout aiding in burning those fatty acids that are floating around in a caffeine-fueled state. See a full list of coffee’s benefits from our friends over at Authority Nutrition.

That all said, coffee intake has also been associated with increased risk of some cancers, high blood pressure, and heart complications.

How can that be? How can one person benefit so greatly from guzzling coffee while another encounters heart palpitations, anxiety and increased blood pressure at the same daily intake?

The answer, it seems, depends on your genes. 

An article in the recent issue of Iron Life Magazine by Calum Gore pointed to several studies that identified wide variations in caffeine metabolism from one individual to the next, suggesting the health risks of coffee depends on your genes. Caffeine is known to be metabolized primarily by  an enzyme CYP1A2 in the liver, and how quickly or slowly you metabolize coffee depends on your genetic makeup. There are two versions of this enzyme, one which metabolizes caffeine quickly and another far less effective at doing so.

If you fall in the latter category, drinking more than a cup a day can have negative consequences. Caffeine builds up in your bloodstream, impacts your CNS recovery and can even lead to a four-fold increased risk of heart attacks compared to those drinking less than one cup per day.

Further research has shown through several studies that people who metabolize caffeine more slowly, when ingesting large quantities of coffee, are much more susceptible to complications such as irritability, anxiety and sleeplessness, with the potential for more major side effects, including an increased risk of heart disease over time.

Roughly half the population is split on one side or the other, meaning 2-3 cups per day is tolerable and even encouraged for fast metabolizers – while the results of this research suggest slow caffeine metabolizers limit their consumption to one cup per day.

It’s likely you self-regulate your coffee consumption already – if your response to too much caffeine is a bout of anxiety and sleeplessness at night, you likely won’t continue to drown yourself in the stuff knowing the negative impact it has on you. However, we all know the friend who can drink coffee minutes before bed and fall right asleep. If you’re that type, why not? The research shows no dire consequences are forthcoming for you.

As for me? I can so much as drink a splash of coffee after 5 PM and be wired until the wee hours of the morning. For me, it’s a no brainer. Coffee consumption in moderation suits me best. A morning cup of java? No problem. Two double espressos before noon and a night cap coffee and Bailey’s? Not a chance.

Assess your tolerance and consume (and enjoy) accordingly. Happy caffeinating!

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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.