Decaf or Not to Decaf? Ask Your Genes.

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Caffeine is the most widely used drug around the world. About 80% of the world's population consumes a caffeinated product each day, and this number goes up to 90% for adults in North America. [1] For some, this regular caffeine consumption may be fine, or even beneficial, but others may face complications down the road. The difference between these individuals lies in their genes. Before we dive deeper into the science behind this, let’s talk about what caffeine really is.

 
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What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a natural stimulant most commonly found in tea, coffee, energy drinks, soft drinks, and cacao plants. It works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system to help you feel more alert and less tired. [1]

 

Caffeine can be naturally found in the seeds, nuts, or leaves of certain plants, such as: [2]

  • coffee beans

  • tea leaves and buds

  • cacao beans (the beans that make chocolate)

  • kola nuts, (native to African rainforests)

  • guarana berries (native to the Amazon Basin)

These natural sources are then harvested and processed to produce caffeinated foods and beverages. Caffeine alone does not have any nutritional value. It’s also tasteless, so you won’t necessarily know if it’s in your food or not. [3]

Coffee and tea are two of the most common caffeine-containing beverages. However, caffeine can also be found in many medicines, supplements, chewing gum, and sweets such as chocolate or pudding. We’ve summarized how much caffeine is in some of these products in the table below, according to the USDA food database.

 
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Caffeine’s Role in the Body

Once caffeine enters your body, it’s rapidly absorbed and broken down into compounds that have various effects on different organs. One of the major organs it affects is your brain. Caffeine directly influences your brain by blocking the effects of adenosine, a signal that relaxes the brain and makes you feel tired. [4] To your nerve cells, caffeine and adenosine look the same. [4] This allows caffeine to bind to adenosine receptors in the place of adenosine, which then blocks adenosine’s ability to make you feel drowsy.

Throughout the day the effects of caffeine will start to wear off. Our bodies do not store caffeine. Whatever doesn’t get absorbed is processed in the liver by an enzyme called CYP1A2 and exits your body through your urine. [5]  This is why you might have an increase in urination shortly after consuming caffeine.

Caffeine Benefits

In moderation, caffeine has been found to have certain health benefits. These include improved memory, increased dopamine production, and decreased risk of oral cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. [6] These benefits are thought to be due to caffeine’s neuroprotective properties and its ability to stimulate certain neurotransmitters (i.e. dopamine and serotonin). [7] However, too much caffeine can curb its health benefits. The FDA recommends consuming no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day, which is about 4 cups of coffee.

Caffeine Risks

In larger amounts, caffeine may interfere with the absorption and metabolism of calcium. This can contribute to bone thinning (osteoporosis). [3] Caffeine can also have major effects on the reproductive system. It can cross the placenta and can cause an increase in the fetus's heart rate and metabolism. Too much caffeine can slow fetal growth and increase the risk of miscarriage. [3] Because of this, women are recommended to limit their caffeine consumption throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Caffeine also increases the amount of acid in your stomach. This may cause heartburn or an upset stomach. [3] Additionally, too much caffeine causes your blood pressure to raise for a short period of time. Researchers believe this is due to caffeine’s ability to increase adrenaline levels, which raises blood pressure. [8] In most people, there is no long-term effect on blood pressure, but if you have irregular heart rhythms, caffeine may cause your heart to work harder than it should. Too much caffeine can even lead to heart attack. [9]

However, recent studies have shown that your risk of hypertension and heart attack is largely dependent on your genes. [10]

 
 
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Your Caffeine Gene

Your CYP1A2 gene is responsible for making the CYP1A2 enzyme, which is the enzyme that helps you metabolize caffeine. People can have different genetic variations in CYP1A2 that lead to a slower or faster ability to clear caffeine from the body. [10] Those with two copies of the A allele in their CYP1A2 gene (AA genotype) are considered “fast metabolizers.” These people are able to clear caffeine from their body at a higher rate than people with one or more copies of the C allele (AC or CC genotypes). People with AC or CC genotypes are considered “slow metabolizers.” [10]

 

Because their bodies are not able to process caffeine as quickly, caffeine stays in the system of slow metabolizers for a longer period of time. This makes smaller caffeine volumes have the same effects as larger volumes do for fast metabolizers. After consuming caffeine, slow metabolizers may experience headaches or feel jittery and anxious. They also have an increased risk of high blood pressure with caffeine consumption, which can make your heart work harder. [9] If you regularly consume high amounts of caffeine, you might be making your heart work too hard too often, which could eventually lead to bigger problems such as heart disease.

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At GenoPalate, we analyze this gene and tell you how fast your body is able to metabolize caffeine. To find out how your body handles caffeine, order your GenoPalate Report here. For the slow metabolizers who’ve already received their report, or for those who don’t want to take any chances, here’s a few tips to reduce your consumption.

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How to Cut Down on Caffeine

To avoid the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, the trick is to cut back gradually to allow your body to adapt to the change. Try these tips: [11]

  1. Keep tabs. Take count to how much caffeine you’re consuming, and round down in your measurements. Not all products with caffeine will list it.

  2. Go decaf. If you just love the taste and smell of your morning cup of jo, decaf beverages will get you your fix without as much caffeine.

  3. Shorten the brew time or go herbal. If you’re a tea drinker, brewing for less time will reduce caffeine content. You can also opt for caffeine free herbal teas.

  4. Check the bottle. Many over-the-counter medicines, such as pain relievers, contain up to 130 mg of caffeine in one dose. Look for caffeine-free pain versions instead.

  5. Drink lots of water. Having a cup of water in the morning can counteract desires for your usual caffeinated beverages.

These recommendations can be implemented along with your personalized GenoPalate nutrition recommendations and food list to help you eat in a way that’s best for you and your unique biology. Order your GenoPalate Report today to find out how to be a healthier (and maybe less caffeinated) you.

References

  1. “What Is Caffeine, and Is It Good or Bad For Health?” Healthline, Healthline Media, www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-caffeine.

  2. “Sources of Caffeine.” Coffee and Health, 29 May 2018, www.coffeeandhealth.org/topic-overview/sources-of-caffeine/.

  3. Pietrangelo , Ann, and Kristeen Cherney. “The Effects of Caffeine on Your Body.” Healthline Newsletter, Healthline, www.healthline.com/health/caffeine-effects-on-body#1.

  4. Brain, Marshall, et al. “How Caffeine Works.” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 1 Apr. 2000, science.howstuffworks.com/caffeine4.htm

  5. Thorn, Caroline F, et al. “PharmGKB Summary: Caffeine Pathway.” Pharmacogenetics and Genomics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3381939/.

  6. Sagon, Candy. “Coffee for Health - Positive and Negative Effects of Caffeine.” AARP, AARP, www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-10-2013/coffee-for-health.html.

  7. Curley, Christopher. “How Coffee May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.” Healthline Newsletter, Healthline, 25 Nov. 2018, www.healthline.com/health-news/how-coffee-may-help-prevent-alzheimers-parkinsons#More-than-just-caffeine-'.

  8. Sheldon G. Sheps, M.D. “What Caffeine Does to Blood Pressure.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Jan. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/blood-pressure/faq-20058543.

  9. (Cornelis, Marilyn C, et al. “Coffee, CYP1A2 Genotype, and Risk of Myocardial Infarction.” JAMA, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8 Mar. 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16522833.)

  10. (Palatini, P, et al. “CYP1A2 Genotype Modifies the Association between Coffee Intake and the Risk of Hypertension.” Journal of Hypertension., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=19451835.)

  11. “Caffeine: How Much Is Too Much?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 8 Mar. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=housecall.

 
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