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Coffee. Is it Good or Bad for You?

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

Determining whether one should drink coffee or give it up has been unclear due to the number of conflicting studies.

Does coffee increase the risk of heart disease or is it beneficial?

For years, scientists have been trying to answer these questions, since coffee is such a favorite beverage around the world.

A 2009 paper determined that these conflicting reports and inconsistencies have to do with our individual genetic differences. Not everyone will respond to caffeine the same.

While several studies have shown caffeine consumption to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and reproductive complications, many others have shown no adverse effect on cardiovascular or fertility outcomes. Similarly, some research shows favorable effects of caffeine in athletes, while other evidence shows negligible or negative effects.

Studies have also shown that there are many benefits to drinking coffee such as improvement in brain function, blood sugar, mood, and a lower risk of death. These improved benefits are due to the phytonutrients and bio-actives from the coffee bean.

Bio-actives are extra-nutritional elements that provide health benefits beyond the basic nutrient value and the main bio-actives in coffee are antioxidants.

Interestingly, with a typical Western diet, most people are getting the majority of their antioxidants from coffee rather than from fruits and vegetables combined.

Genetic Differences

The controversial findings from the studies on whether coffee is beneficial or harmful have a lot to do with one’s genetics.

CYP1A2 is a phase 1 liver detoxification enzyme that accounts for 95% of caffeine metabolism. A common variation exists in the gene that codes for the CYP1A2 enzyme and depending on your genetics you either metabolize coffee fast, medium or slow. The risk allele is the ‘C’ allele and those with the C allele have a decrease in the enzyme activity.

· AA. Fast caffeine metabolism

· AC. Moderate Metabolizer

· CC. Slow Metabolizer Fast metabolizers

Knowing that caffeine metabolism varies between individuals, a large study took a closer look at one’s CYP1A2 gene and the risk of disease.

Among “fast” caffeine metabolizers, there was no increased risk of a heart attack at any level of coffee consumption. Among “slow” caffeine metabolizers, there was a significantly increased risk of heart attack among those consuming 2-3 cups/day.

Fast Metabolizers of Caffeine

If you have the ‘AA’ genotype, you are unlikely to get nervous or anxious after drinking coffee. You are also more likely to benefit from caffeine as an athletic performance booster.

For fast metabolizers, drinking 4 cups of coffee a day adds protection against developing high blood pressure and heart disease. Because these individuals metabolize caffeine faster and have no harmful effects, the bio-actives become more prevalent. This will decrease the risk of heart disease and hypertension and provide many of the antioxidant benefits such as a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, depression, and liver disease.

One long term study concluded that coffee drinkers had a lower risk of dying.

Moderate and slow Metabolizers

Most slow metabolizers know that they have to limit their amount of caffeine due to feeling anxious and nervous after drinking caffeine beverages. But moderate metabolizers may not have the jittery symptoms and may consume more caffeine than they should.

Slow metabolizers also may have a reduction in athletic performance so best not to have that cup of coffee before a work-out.

Most important, drinking coffee or other caffeine drinks can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease for those who are not fast metabolizers.

Drinking 2-3 cups a day may have a 72% increased risk of developing hypertension for slow metabolizers and possibly for moderate metabolizers.

The effects of caffeine and the risk of a nonfatal heart attack are greater in those who are 59 and younger and are slow metabolizers.

· Drinking 1 cup/day = 24% increased risk

· Drinking 2-3 cups/day = 67% increased risk

· Drinking >4 cups a day = 133% increased risk.

For those who are over 60, the risk is not as great.

While most of the literature on the CYP1A2 gene is in association with caffeine metabolism, this enzyme also is important in detoxifying many other products.

CYP1A2 metabolizes:

  1. Caffeine

  2. Hormones: melatonin and estrogens.

  3. Metabolic waste products

  4. Toxins: aromatic heterocyclic amines (in cigarette smoke, charbroiled meat), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (in cigarette smoke, diesel exhaust, pollution), and aflatoxin which is found in peanuts and other contaminated foods.

  5. Medication such as Tylenol (acetaminophen)

Caffeine is not just in coffee but also in tea, chocolate, soft drinks, and energy drinks.

Everyone is genetically unique which is why we encourage nutrigenomic testing to understand your distinctive biochemistry in order to optimize your health.

If you'd like to learn more about how nutrigenetics affects your health and future, contact us at or click here.


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