COFFEE: Angel From Heaven, Or The Devil’s Handmaiden?


The answer, like most things people like to oversimplify in order to pass black/white/good/bad binomial 0 or 1, always eternally true, everlasting and unchanging judgments on but inevitably turn out to be…well, somewhat peculiarly ambivalent shades of grey, is that it all depends.

And here is a little of what some of it all depends on:

  1. Whether or not you are a fast, slow or somewhere in between caffeine metabolizer, in other words-at what rate of speed the machinery of your physiology processes caffeine and its metabolites. This is usually evident with a typically phenotypically common reaction of whether a late night coffee keeps you up at night (see footnote below*) or not. If the answer is “no” then, in all likelihood, you are a fast metabolizer of caffeine, it doesn’t hang around in your system very long and is likely to have beneficial effects on your cardiovascular profile and outlook, be useful to you in endurance activities and helps you squeeze out a few more reps when pumping iron. If the answer is a resounding “yes” then you are probably a slow metabolizer of this xanthine alkaloid and perhaps, it won’t have these nice effects and you may have, amongst of side effects, headaches, cortisol peaks, anxiety attacks, a little high blood pressure situation going on, etc. should you go on foolishly drinking too much.
    2. Your age. Yes, annoyingly the older we get, the more things “don’t work as well as they used to”. This usually means the various organs (the liver primarily) that do the processing of caffeine and its metabolites eventually downgrading to become less efficient. This factor may contribute to the experiencing of negative outcomes in relation to caffeine consumption.
    3. Your health status, along with the above this includes any issues concerning blood pressure, diabetes, liver or kidney dysfunction, MS, fibromyalgia and the whole, unending lists of other available maladies. Most of these will not make your caffeine experience more rewarding or enjoyable.

I’ll leave all the possible double whammies at that unless anyone has further questions. As has become evident in the last few years, at least to me, and has spawned the truly fascinating fields of pharmacogenomics and pharmacogenetics, when you talk about the “goodness or badness” of an activity, food or substance, you are going to have to do so without resorting to universal moral, ethical or health blankets to throw over it, you are going to have to look at each particular subject or group of related subjects in the reflected light of an individual and his circumstances.

However, as far as the big, wild, unpredictable scheme of things goes: even if you call it wrong and toss one too many white sugar cubes in with your morning cup o’ joe, it isn’t a steaming hot container of strychnine and is pretty unlikely to kill.


*One of the important genes responsible for metabolizing caffeine is going to be CYP1A2, particularly dependent on what variations or alleles you possess, i.e. AA, AC or CC version.

Ref. 1: PharmGKB summary: caffeine pathway. A rather good, but technical discussion.

Ref. 2: Recent issue of Examine’s useful ERD digital publication (Issue 44, Vol 1 of 2 ◆ June 2018), probably a more enjoyable and accessible discussion of the subject than the reference above.



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