“Is coffee good for you?” asked my Uber driver as we made our way along I-295 heading for the airport. “Well, it depends on the person,” I replied cautiously – in the way I often do when I’m trying to gauge the inquirer’s actual level of interest in the Pandora’s Box-like question he or she just posed. I was also trying to buy myself time to tame the ultra nerdy part of me who gets excited talking about cytochrome P450 enzyme pathways and genetic variances that influence how quickly or slowly an individual may metabolize caffeine, thus determining how impacted a person might become after exposure to the drug. As we neared the Southwest terminal, my driver humored my inner nerd as politely as possible and seemed ready to tone down his consumption level in exchange for possible relief from anxiety, insomnia and irritability.
And am I really the best person to ask about coffee? I am probably one of the only people on the planet who can lay claim to having lived in Seattle, Washington for 5 years and never purchased a Starbucks venti grande! My un-American behavior was not guided by a moral compass but by the unnerving symptoms of intense anxiety and digestive upset that followed after my high school explorations of coffee – my body quickly teaching me that coffee is my poison. I could have tried to override it as many individuals do and suffer through the symptoms in exchange for 2-3 more pseudoproductive hours in the day. After recently completing my 23 & Me test and discovering that I inherited a bum lot of gene variances making it difficult for my liver to break down caffeine, I am really glad I didn’t push it.
The same pathways that detoxify caffeine in the liver also break down estrogens, so if I was a coffee drinker, I would be more at risk of developing fibrocystic breast disease and uterine fibroids. And while it may be my poison, studies show that coffee consumption may delay or prevent Parkinson’s Disease. Moral of the story: the research about caffeine intake and risk or prevention of chronic disease ultimately depends on the person consuming it.