The pendulum swings for coffee guidance are pretty wild. Depending on the “authority” you consult, coffee can either be the key to immortality or the quickest way to an early grave. Over the years, even trusted sources of dietary information have tended to disagree on what the research says and how to advise the public on their caffeine habits. Nevertheless, coffee culture is booming, and we all know people who basically have a coffee IV powering them through the workday. Not surprisingly, 62% of Americans drink coffee every day, with the average coffee drinker consuming three cups per day.
We get it. It’s confusing. So what’s the deal? If you love your coffee, you probably turn the other direction when a study suggests your aromatic brew may be to blame for your short temper and night sweats. After all, coffee lovers really love their coffee. I am one of those people. I think coffee aficionados would agree that an easy way to ruin a delicious breakfast is with a cup of watery joe. Give me too much, though, and I turn into a jittery mess. Some people can drink several cups a day, even enjoying the ever-classy post-dinner espresso, without missing a wink of sleep. What gives?
Following Coffee’s Research Trail
For years, coffee was thought to be a possible carcinogen. Early studies linked coffee consumption with diseases such as asthma and heart disease, however these findings were dubious since many of the participants smoked. Current research, however, suggests that moderate coffee intake (between 2-5 cups per day, up to 400mg of caffeine) may convey health benefits for most people. It is worth noting that research on coffee is mostly epidemiological – the studies look at the association between caffeine consumption and particular risks and benefits, but it cannot be said that coffee causes those risks or benefits.
Let’s take a quick look at what coffee is and where it comes from. Coffee plants produce a fruit called a coffee cherry. Coffee cherries are processed and roasted to produce coffee beans. The component responsible for making us feel alert and focused, or alternatively anxious and on edge, is, of course, caffeine. For the coffee plant, the bitter caffeine acts as a pesticide, deterring insects from devouring its foliage, while also serving the purpose of attracting pollinators – win-win!
For us humans, caffeine makes us feel energized and alert due to its stimulating effect on the central nervous system. In addition to caffeine, coffee contains antioxidants and other substances that may decrease internal inflammation and guard against disease.
Personalized Coffee Guidance
To dig a little deeper into the coffee conundrum, we asked one of our resident ColdSnap nutritionists, Director of Food Science and Product Innovation, Andi Wolfgang. Andi is a Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist and fellow lover of coffee (don’t worry, she has set aside all personal biases for the purpose of this article!).
Wolfgang has been following the research on coffee over the years. “Studies show that the effect of caffeine on your body may be related to your genes,” she says, referring to the research of Dr. Ahmed El-Sohemy. El-Sohemy, a professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, has honed in on the genetic component of how caffeine affects us. His research shows that people process caffeine differently. A portion of the population are “rapid” caffeine metabolizers, while others are “slow” caffeine metabolizers. The rapid caffeine metabolizers process caffeine more quickly, experience more of its positive effects, and can handle more of it than the slow metabolizers, who are more likely to experience negative effects like feeling anxious and edgy. The gene responsible for all this is CYP1A2 (which is also an enzyme).
“A 2006 study, done by El-Sohemy and his colleagues”, Wolfgang notes, “was conducted on Hispanic Americans to determine if myocardial infarction (heart attack) risk was related to coffee consumption. The study found that ‘slow’ caffeine metabolizers had an increased risk of heart attack, especially when more than one cup of coffee per day was consumed, while ‘rapid’ metabolizers did not have the increased risk regardless of how much coffee they consumed. Having one cup of coffee per day, though, was found to be low risk for both groups. The risk increased with more than one cup for the ‘slow’ metabolizers.”
Similarly, in a study on the impacts of caffeine consumption on hypertension, fast versus slow metabolism seemed to be the key. Moderate and heavy coffee consumption was associated with an increased risk of hypertension for slow caffeine metabolizers, but fast metabolizers had no such risk.
How Does Your Body Process Coffee?
How do you know if you’re a fast coffee metabolizer versus a slow metabolizer? Tuning in to your body’s signals is a good first step. How do you feel after drinking coffee? Slow metabolizers experience the adverse effects of caffeine – feeling jittery and wired for up to nine hours after consuming caffeine. Fast metabolizers, on the other hand, feel energetic and alert. You probably already know which type of coffee metabolizer you are. Taking a quick genetic test (such as this) can confirm how you metabolize caffeine.
What’s a Coffee Lover To Do?
Even for slow metabolizers, one cup of coffee per day should be fine – just experiment with type, how much, time of day, and method of brewing your coffee. If you’re a fast metabolizer, you’re more likely to reap the health benefits of coffee, but don’t go overboard – you can still overdo it and experience the adverse effects of too much caffeine.
For those who enjoy a daily cup of coffee, the potential health benefits include improved mental and athletic performance, lower chance of cardiovascular disease and premature mortality, and lower incidence of Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases.
ColdSnap offers Snappuccinos™, delicious frozen dairy coffee beverages. A non-dairy option is in the works too. Andi and I were just chatting about future coffee products and we hope to offer a decaf option for those that lack the genes to support rapid coffee metabolism!
By Lyn Ferreira
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