Beans and Genes
How does coffee really affect our bodies? It turns out the answer is more complicated and unclear than you might expect. Studies upon studies have been done on the long-term health of regular coffee drinkers, with mixed results. Some conclude that daily consumption is linked to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or heart disease. Others say that it’s linked to an increased risk of gastrointestinal problems, anemia, or heart disease.
First of all, these studies indicate correlation, not causation. What this means is that regular coffee consumption is linked to these problems and diseases, but it doesn’t necessarily cause them – there could be a third common factor that causes these effects. But one factor that most studies don’t take into account is genes.
Nutrigenomics is the study of the interaction of nutrition and genes. Nutrigenomics says that the health effects that you experience from consuming certain things can be determined in part by your genetic makeup. So let’s apply this to caffeinated coffee and its effect on a person’s risk for heart disease and Parkinson’s.
A gene called CYP1A2 signals your liver to make one of two enzymes: CYP1A2 fast or CYP1A2 slow. If you have the gene that makes CYP1A2 fast, your liver is able to process and eliminate caffeine quite quickly, leading to a decreased risk of heart disease. If you have the gene that makes CYP1A2 slow, your liver processes and eliminates caffeine more slowly, leading to an increased risk of heart disease.
Isn’t that fascinating? One gene can determine whether your daily coffee habit helps or hinders you.
A gene called GRIN2A can affect your nervous system in one of two ways. If the gene acts one way, coffee can decrease your risk of Parkinson’s by up to 60%. If the gene acts another way, coffee doesn’t affect your risk of Parkinson’s.
So can my daily caramel latte be good for me?
The short answer is just what you would expect: no. Even if your genetic makeup is favourable when it comes to the possible health benefits of coffee, those benefits are based on the consumption of black coffee. So have your coffee however you want, but know that most health benefits are negated when you start dressing it up with milk, cream, sugar, and syrups.