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Coffee. That wonderfully caffeinated drink that instantly wakes you up the second its full-bodied aroma diffuses into the air and calls your senses to attention. Dramatic description? Maybe for some. However, I cannot start my morning without drinking at least three cups of coffee. As you walk through the HUB, you’re more than likely to see me standing in the never-ending line that leads to the promise land: the Starbucks counter. I drink it firstly for its taste, but a little caffeine boost can’t hurt (or can it?). There have been numerous experiments conducted studying the effects that drinking coffee can have on our bodies.
According to an AARP article, caffeine has been said to raise blood pressure, increase anxiety, disrupt sleep patterns, and irritate your stomach (due to its high acidity). It’s also been speculated that coffee is technically a drug because drinkers become dependent/addicted to the caffeine in the drink. Studies conducted at Harvard University dispelled the belief that coffee increases blood pressure. Actually, the experiment proved that caffeine (slightly) improves higher blood pressure. Other studies at Harvard concluded that consuming coffee lowers the risk of prostrate cancer and diabetes. Can the beverage completely prevent cancers or other diseases? No. But it’s comforting to debunk the theories that claim the caffeine in coffee is harmful to the consumer. But even Harvard’s findings can’t be considered the final word on the coffee debate. Assertions of coffee being linked to this disease or that disease have been ongoing for quite some time. Each new finding seems to contradict a previously executed study and experiment. What is behind this clashing of coffee “truths”?
A recent New York Times article proposed that our genes could be responsible for our reaction to drinking coffee. Dr. El-Sohemy (professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto) conducted a study analyzing how genes and coffee consumption can affect the heart. The study used a group of 4,000 adults (2,000 of which had experienced a heart attack). After testing, the scientists found that drinking 4 or more cups of coffee a day yielded a 36% increased risk of having a heart attack. Analyzing that percentage more closely, Dr. El-Sohemy found that “slow” metabolizers made up the entire 36%, and “fast” metabolizers showed no increased risk of having a heart attack. What does a slow or fast metabolizer mean? Well, each of us possesses a gene called CYP1A2 that controls an enzyme of the same name (CYP1A2). This gene enables our bodies to break down caffeine that we ingest. We inherit this from each of our parents, and there are two variations; dictated as slow and fast. The slow variant takes a longer period of time to break down the caffeine. The fast variant quickly breaks down and absorbs the caffeine. The slow metabolizers have an increased risk in experiencing a heart attack, Dr. El-Sohemy believes, because the caffeine lingers for a considerable amount of time, which can act as an instigator of an attack. The relationship here is that of a confounding correlation. Coffee does not directly cause heart attacks. The amount of coffee consumed is the third variable that plays into this correlation. Conversely, fast metabolizers actually had a reduced risk of experiencing a heart attack if they drank at least 3 cups of joe a day. However, it is interesting to note that both fast and slow metabolizers both had an increased performance in physical tasks with the consumption of coffee. Fast metabolizers excelled in the task more so than slow metabolizers. The reason behind this result was that fast metabolizers can actually absorb the antioxidants and other beneficial compounds found in coffee because they metabolize the caffeine in a timely period. The takeaway is that everyone can reap the benefits of ingesting caffeine, but some people are just predisposed to benefit more than others.