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Not everyone’s cup of coffee – Genetics of caffeine metabolism

posted on 10/1/2018 Facebook Facebook

Some people can simply drink 4-5 cups of coffee a day and sleep with ease at night while others drink a cup of to be awake at mid of night.  Call it a question or dilemma, patients often asks it to their healthcare professional. Question is why coffee reacts differently in every individual is part of debate across world at research labs.  A typical cup of coffee contains 75-100gm caffeine. If a group of individuals drinking same amount of standardized coffee, they will react differently. Our genetic composition is the reason behind what degree a given amount of caffeine will affect individual and how individual chooses to drink coffee.

Caffeine is absorbed completely from gastrointestinal tracks and metabolized by cytochrome P-450 enzymes that are coded by genes CYP1A2. Based on the genetic variation in this genes coffee consuming individuals are divided into two groups – rapid metabolizers and slow metabolizers. Rapid metabolizer will show great response to the stimulating effect of caffeine while slow ones need higher amount to feel effect. One group of individuals may need multiple coffees in a day, while for other a cup may be more than enough to keep head up.  Caffeine has an average half-life of approximately four hours (although this may vary) explaining why some individuals can drink coffee throughout the day and have no trouble sleeping, whilst others prefer to avoid coffee, or switch to decaffeinated coffee in noon and evening.

Caffeine has a similar structure to adenosine; on binding with it receptors following the chain of reactions neurotransmitters like dopamine are released, turning on the sensation of ‘being tired’. When caffeine binds to adenosine receptors it increases the feeling of alertness. Other factors besides genetics that can affect caffeine metabolism includes age, gender, tolerance to habitual coffee intake, smoking status, some specific medications, and pregnancy.

Of course, this varies across a spectrum and individuals often manage their own caffeine intake to suit their personal lifestyle. It is likely that people who are more sensitive to caffeine will self-moderate their intake based on what they know they can tolerate. Because individuals respond differently to caffeine depending on a number of factors, individual advice regarding coffee and caffeine intake is the most appropriate cause of action. No next time when you go out for a coffee break and don’t recover from Sunday mode then think you are not from the same metabolizer group.

By: Ruchi Bhajeewala, Genetic Counselor, Positive Bioscience

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are representative of the author and may not express the views of Positive Bioscience. This blog is intended for education and information for the general public. Before making any medical decisions a medical professional must be consulted. All rights reserved. Image adapted from internet.

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