Coffee: Good or Bad?

Coffee. For some, just the word coffee makes them feel alive. Yet for some others, this drink is their biggest nemesis, as it makes them jittery and even a bit anxious. In this article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of coffee.

Coffee is the second most popular beverage in the world after water. It’s also the world’s second most traded commodity trumped only by petroleum. And believe it or not, worldwide, a whopping 400 billion cups of coffee is consumed each year.

A Short History of Coffee

The term coffee has Arabic origins. It comes from the Arabic word “qahwa” (which is also what coffee is called in Arabic). Besides this origin, there is substantial evidence that suggests that Muslims in Yemen first drank coffee and introduced it to the rest of world.

So, just as the countless of other inventions and discoveries made by early Muslims, coffee continues to shape our modern world and has an incredible presence as a drink and stimulant.

Never-ending Coffee Controversy

It’s estimated that almost half of the earth’s population drink coffee. While this drink is very popular, there are also loads of controversies surrounding it.

100s of studies toot its benefits while 100 others raise a red flag! For example, while studies show that coffee is protective against heart diseases, other studies show that drinking coffee increases the risk of getting this disease.

The Truth Revealed

As a coffee lover and a moderate consumer of coffee, I felt like there was more to coffee than these studies claimed. So I decided to dig deeper into coffee and what I found next blew my mind.

That’s because the latest research in nutrigenomics (the study of how genes and nutrients interact) shows that your genes play a vital role in whether coffee will be good or bad for your health.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that certain individuals processed or metabolised caffeine much faster than others. Some of us are “fast metabolizers”, meaning that we process caffeine effectively and it doesn’t cause us health problems. Others are “slow metabolizers”, which means that in excess, caffeine can increase our risk of certain diseases.

Fast metabolizers, who carry normal CYP1A2 genes, showed no increased risk of heart attacks from caffeinated coffee consumption. However, the opposite was true for slow metabolizers, who carry CYP1A2 gene variations. A study of this latter group found that drinking more coffee increased their risk. Drinking two to three cups daily increased the risk by 36%; drinking more than four cups daily cranked that risk to 65%.

And this genetic variation doesn’t stop at heart disease. It also explains why some people can guzzle a pot of coffee just before bed and sleep well, while others find difficult to fall asleep at night with the last cup of coffee at lunch!

Why Your Genes Matter: Fast and Slow Metabolizers

It’s estimated that around 40 percent of people are fast metabolizers and around 15 percent are slow metabolizers. About 45 percent of the population have both a slow and a fast copy of this gene.

According to Dr Ahmed El-Sohemy, one of the world’s foremost nutrigenomics researchers, DNA testing is the most reliable way to find out how quickly or slowly you metabolise this drink. There are many online services that provide this service, with 23andme.com being, perhaps, the most popular out there.

But before you dismiss the likelihood of finding out your metabolism because you don’t want (or can’t afford) a DNA test, here is the next best thing to test how quickly you metabolise your caffeine: listen to your body.

Yep, if you are a fast metabolizer, you may experience an immediate spike in alertness followed by a quick dip in energy after a cup of coffee. On the other hand, a slow metabolizer may find him or herself jittery after drinking coffee, and they may also crave some sugar an hour or two later.

Another indicator of your caffeine metabolism is your sleeping pattern. If your evening cup of coffee disrupts your sleep, you most probably have a slow metabolising gene.

Caffeine Content in Other Food Sources

As you probably know, caffeine is found in other dietary sources too. The infographic below shows you these sources and their caffeine content:

If you are slow metabolizer, make sure you don’t exceed more than 300 mg of caffeine a day. And avoid having this stimulant late in the evening.

The Middle Path and Taking Our Prophet’s Advice

After digging through countless journals, books and studies, it clearly shows that having a moderate amount of caffeine is the best advice to follow.

As a Muslim, we know that our salvation in both worlds depends very much on moderation. The Prophet (PBUH) said:

“Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately. Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (of paradise).” – Sahih Al-Bukhari

Though this hadith speaks volumes, the simple take away message is this: moderation in all our affairs is the key to success.

Moderate Caffeine Intake and Your Health

Ok, now begs the question, what is a moderate amount in consuming coffee?

It seems, one (250 ml) to three cups of coffee is fine for most of us. Exceeding more than three cups a day doesn’t seem to be beneficial even for the fast metabolizers.

On the other hand, drinking a cup per day is not associated with a harmful effect even for slow metabolizers. It all depends on when you drink it.

In a double-blind placebo-controlled design, a cup of early morning coffee significantly enhanced alertness in subjects.

In another study, doses of 20-200 mg of caffeine caused subjective reports of increased energy, improved powers of imagination, increased efficiency, and improved self-confidence.

So, regardless of how quickly you metabolise your caffeine, a cup of coffee may help you to kick start your morning.

And if you need a shot of energy and alertness before an important event, you may again put the coffee to use to your advantage. Remember, it’s all about moderation and timing!

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