Coffee – Is it a win or a sin?

Young man watching tablet in cafe

I sit back on my lunch break and stare into the overcrowded hipster café. Junkies standing in line, all waiting for their next hit. There they stand in their Birkies, color drained from their skin, eyes down on their phone, shuffling toward the drug dealer on the other side of the counter.


Once it’s their turn, they light up. They smile and make small talk and joke around. The drug dealer is the gatekeeper to happiness, so it makes sense to stay on her good side. She brings sunshine and rainbows to an otherwise stormy day.


The line moves slowly. And that seems risky.


Don’t the employees know how dangerous it is to keep a bunch of junkies waiting? They should have faster service, before somebody gets hurt.


They stand around for what seems like hours for a cup filled with liquid. And finally it arrives. They walk out smiling, inside performing a happy dance. Life’s good! I can now function!


They have the syringe, and it’s injected via a Styrofoam cup. I laugh. What a bunch of addicts controlled by an overpriced cup, I think.


Then I realize that’s me… I’m an addict, and I’m worse than these people. I don’t function without a hit into my arm several times per day, and I’ve been doing it for a long time.


My journey on decreasing coffee was much harder than expected. Considering this is a fitness site, let’s take a look at coffee – Is it good for you? Is it bad for you like so many fitness bloggers claims? And how the hell can you get off the stuff without checking in to rehab?


Coffee – Is it good for me?


There are hundreds of articles judging you for enjoying your daily coffee. Authors claim how coffee can cause restlessness, adrenal fatigue, and anxiety issues.


And some of that may be true, especially for those people with a specific genetic make up.


So whilst there are negatives, there are also plenty of positives. Science has shown it can increase fat burning, improve workout performance and cognitive functioning, and provide a healthy dose of antioxidants.


But all of the science fails to comment on one main reason to keep drinking coffee: Because you love it.



A daily cup is hardly a punishable crime. Coffee drinking is a social focus, especially in Australia with the burgeoning café scene. Like everything, there is a time and a place for coffee and it is possible to enjoy it in moderation.


If you catch yourself masking fatigue with coffee, or relying on it for daily function, then perhaps you need to rethink your addiction.


What role do my genes play?

I was always curious as to why some people seemed handle to coffee well, where others would turn into a nervous wreck. As it turns out, your coffee sensitivity has a lot to do with your genes.


For some people caffeine can be medicine… and for others, it can be poison. Like with so many areas of nutrition, the dosage determines the outcome.


Take for example, the ‘superfood’ bok choy. This vegetable contains glucosinolates, which have been shown to contribute to thyroid problems at high doses.


You could enjoy a cup or two of bok choy every day and could metabolize the glucosinolates, and feel fine.


But what if you went and ate 20 cups? Well you could potentially end up with hypothyroidism. The bok choy in those amounts would be toxic.


You can apply this rule to almost everything. Let’s also look at a specific vitamin. You can safely supplement with vitamin B and would gain some benefits from doing so.


But if tomorrow you decided to take fifteen times the daily dose, your neurological and liver function will suffer. The vitamin has become toxic.


You can see where I’m going with this… almost everything is toxic at some level.


And coffee is no different. When it comes to caffeine tolerance, there’s some interesting research that looks at your genes. Scientists refer to this as nutrigenomics.


The dose truly matters when it comes to one particular risk: heart disease. And it all revolves around a specific little gene called CYP1A2.


This gene tells your liver to make one of two enzymes: CYP1A2 fast or CYP1A2 slow.


Are you still with me?

I hope so, here’s where it gets interesting… If you have the FAST version of the gene, your body will process and eliminate the caffeine from your bloodstream really fast.


So if that’s you, and you metabolize the caffeine fast, then you have a decreased risk of heart attack when you have a small amount of coffee per day.


So if that’s you, don’t throw away your Starbucks card. Drink up!




If you have the gene of CYP1A2 that produces the slow version, you’re in trouble. Every time you take your hit of java your body metabolizes and eliminates the caffeine from your body very slowly.


This can lead to an increase in heart disease risk.


So like the “healthy” bok choy or the B-vitamin, coffee can actually be a “poison” for one person, and a “medicine” for the next. It all depends on your genes.


Genetic variation can also explain why coffee has been associated with:

  • Disrupted sleep in some, but not in others…
  • Worsening PMS symptoms in some, but not in others…
  • Increased workout performance in some, but decreased in others…
  • Increased blood pressure risks in some, but not in others…
  • Higher risk of early miscarriage in some, but not in others…
  • And so on.


You could look at genetic testing (such as if this interest your more.


So whilst the majority of the blogs and articles make the assumption that you’re drinking coffee for energy or to get through your 12-hour shift, then of course you need to rethink your habits.


But for me, coffee is part of my morning routine and something that brings enjoyment. To me the smell and the enjoyment from the first sip of coffee each day is something I don’t want to get rid of. But I needed a break – I was relying on coffee to function daily.


Coffee Overload

I was extremely addicted. I was having up to four strong coffees daily, and several weeks ago I knew I needed to cut it down.


And when I did, the withdrawal symptoms came. And they hit me HARD.


The first 48-hours of my coffee comedown featured migraines, cold sweats, and the inability to have an adult conversation with anyone.


I almost considered checking myself into a heavy drug rehabilitation center.


Weaning Off

So now I’m supposed to write some “expert tips” or an “8-step guide to quitting coffee.” Instead of telling you what to do, I’d prefer to just tell you what I’ve done.


Firstly I’ve weaned back to one per day. I make it quality (no instant crap here) and I enjoy every sip.


Secondly, I’ve sent away for genetic screening. This will reveal if coffee is suited to me or not.


When I’m feeling like more coffee throughout the day, I drink herbal tea or lemon water instead. This craving for more coffee has basically disappeared, but it did take about 10 days.


A 10-minute nap after lunch also has me feeling more energized throughout the afternoon.


If you don’t plan on getting the genetic testing, your best bet is probably to limit it down to 1-2 per day.


You could even try to go caffeine free one or two days per week. Most importantly, listen to your body. Sometimes it will tell you everything, without the need for genetic testing.


Wrapping Up

The migraines eventually went away. My sleep improved. And I could now talk to people using full English instead of grunts and moans. I brought full strength coffee back into my daily routine, and I’ll probably have a coffee break once every few months to reset my body.


Hopefully the point of this article should be coming into focus: like just about every other food, caffeinated coffee isn’t universally good or bad.


For some people, coffee is great. For others it’s poorly tolerated. And in these folks, coffee might need to be avoided.


For me, I’m going to be having my coffee each morning and I’ll keep enjoying my daily hit.