Over the last 15 years coffee has invaded Britain, our high street, our homes, our offices. Coffee shops are found everywhere, supermarkets, service stations, markets, festivals and pretty every other shop front! According to ICO data the imports of ground coffee roughly double 1997 and 2010. Influenced by European, American and Australasian coffee cultures we are nation that has become obsessed by a “cup o’ Joe”. As a nutritional therapist I see people come through my door every day with serious coffee habits, it generally is a well guarded ‘guilty pleasure’ or “I just NEED my morning cup of coffee’. While coffee contains caffeine which creates a mild and short lived physical dependence, unlike other addictive substances these coffee addictions are predominately physiological.
So should it be labelled a ‘guilty pleasure’? Is it really bad for you? Or could it actually be a health or ‘super food’? Well the answer is it depends…. It could have really quite a negative effect on your health or it could be protecting you against disease, it depends on how your body individual body works. More specifically on an enzyme expressing gene (called CYP1A2) in your liver. This gene produces the enzyme that metabolises the caffeine from the system. Some people it produces an enzyme that is super ‘fast’ at removing the caffeine from the body and some people produce a ‘slow’ enzyme which is not efficient at all. So if you have a the ‘fast’ gene you are unlikely to feel the ‘energy’ boosting effects from the caffeine, and any pick me up you get from your coffee will be purely psychosomatic. Additionally you will reap the benefits from the other health boosting compounds such as polyphenols and antioxidants that coffee is rich in. It has been shown for ‘fast’ metabolisers to be protective against heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s (although another specific gene plays a role here too), types of cancer and diabetes. It is for you guys a true health boosting ‘super food’.
However if you fall into the ‘slow’ category it is another story. The caffeine is not processed quickly so does give that instant buzz of energy but this will be short-lived, and the sacrifice your body makes for this buzz can be high. The caffeine stimulates stress hormones, the heart rate and blood pressure rise, your blood sugar is disrupted. As the caffeine wears off you can be left with low energy and cravings. Long term it can create anxiety, depression, weight gain, insomnia, increase risk of heart disease, blood sugar imbalances contributing to hormone disruption including PMS, PCOS, thyroid imbalances, insulin resistance, diabetes and adrenal fatigue. It really is for you guys a potential poison.
So how do you know if you are fast or slow metaboliser? Aside from expensive functional testing there is one fail-safe method that I always try to get people to engage: “Listen to your body”. This means changing things up and noticing how it feels. First things first, if you drink lots of coffee, never really feel any energy level or physiological effects, don’t have any anxiety or sleep problems you are more likely to be a fast metabolism. Even slow metabolisers’ build a resistance to caffeine so you may be able to tolerate a few cups a day and not feel the effects or you maybe a fast metaboliser but have anxiety and insomnia due to another underlying cause so the next step is to do an elimination test. If you are a slow metaboliser and have a physical addiction to caffeine then you will in all likelihood experience caffeine withdrawal side effects. The most common is a nasty headache that comes on 12-24hrs after ceasing consumption and lasts for 2-3days. Other symptoms can include fatigue, sleepiness, inability to focus, flu-like symptoms, constipation, irritability, depression and anxiety. The good news is these only last a few days and breaking your dependence on caffeine is likely to improve your wellbeing in so many ways.
So if you are ‘fast’ metaboliser, please start to drink plenty of good quality fresh coffee, turn that guilty pleasure into just a straight pleasure, lucky you! If you are ‘slow’ metaboliser don’t despair, there are ways round this! Organic, non-chemical processing, decaffeinated coffee still contains all the health protective effects that the caffeinated stuff does. I don’t know why people are funny about ordering or drinking decaf, there’s almost a stigma attached to it, which is silly! It only tastes bad if it is old or poor quality which goes for the same as caffeinated coffee. To reduce your caffeine intake, but not go cold turkey, green tea is an amazing healthy alternative, as although it contains some caffeine it is balanced out with calming amino acids, so does not have the same effect on blood sugar and cortisol/insulin. Green tea is also liver and cancer protective too.
If you feel you could benefit your wellbeing by understanding your nutrition needs better book in with me, Libby Limon, Nutritional Therapist at the Goswell Rd clinic for a one on one consultation. Contact reception to book.