If you’re like many Americans, a day isn’t complete without a trip to Starbucks. Hopefully, when YOU visit you stick to plain coffee rather than a frou-frou drink with 30 grams of sugar. These days, people are feeling better about drinking coffee after many studies show this popular beverage has health benefits. In fact, coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet. However, studies showing the health benefits of coffee haven’t always been so clear cut. Past studies linked coffee with a greater risk of heart disease and eSlowSven pancreatic cancer.
While the association between coffee and health problems like these has mostly been disproven, a certain percent of the population may be at risk of an irregular heart rhythm or heart attack if they drink too much caffeinated coffee or excessive quantities of any caffeinated beverage. Scientists have discovered that we don’t all process caffeine at the same speed. Some people are “fast metabolizers,” meaning they clear caffeine quickly from their body while others are “slow metabolizers.” In these folks, caffeine circulates in the blood stream longer. It’s the latter group who can potentially have problems with caffeine consumption.
Slow vs. Fast Caffeine Metabolizers
Genes produce proteins, including proteins, or enzymes, that affect how we metabolize everything from dietary components to medications. In fact, genes determine our physical characteristics as well, whether we have blue eyes or dark hair as well as our susceptibility to diseases. You can think of them as a genetic blueprint – but one that can be modified epigenetically through lifestyle.
One gene that scientists have identified produces an enzyme called CYP1A2. It’s this gene that influences how quickly you break down the caffeine in a cup of coffee, caffeinated tea, or energy drink. Some people have a CYP1A2 enzyme that differs slightly in structure from the normal gene, just enough to change how rapidly they break down caffeine. In some cases, this genetic variation is inherited. The consequences of having this genetic variation are caffeine is metabolized at a slower rate and hangs around in the body longer. People who have this gene variation are called slow metabolizers while everyone else is a fast metabolizer.
Why does it matter whether you’re a slow metabolizer of caffeine? Studies link the slow breakdown of caffeine to a greater risk of high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythm, and heart attack in those who consume a lot of caffeine. However, fast caffeine metabolizers are not at a higher risk because they clear caffeine quickly enough that it doesn’t build up.
The Stimulant Effect of Caffeine
As you know, caffeine is a stimulant and the more you drink, the greater the stimulating effect. Caffeine causes a rise in heart rate and can cause a transient rise in blood pressure. On the plus side, it also boosts alertness and attention while having an overall stimulatory effect. Most people adapt to the stimulating