Tag Archives: genetic medicine

Is Coffee Good for You?

I remember when I was growing up many people who were trying to live a “healthy” lifestyle avoid all caffeine, even that in chocolate. Of course, our idea of what is healthy changes over the years. It used to be that fat was the culprit to avoid. Now, it is carbohydrates. Next it will be….your guess is as good as mine.

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With coffee, there is actually some strong evidence that it is a healthy choice for most people. Many studies have shown coffee to be a brain protector that could help prevent Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. There are also studies indicating that coffee might decrease the risk of diabetes. And there are compounds in coffee besides caffeine that could be beneficial. For instance, chlorogenic acid is the active ingredient in the popular weight loss supplement Green Coffee Bean Extract.

For a small percentage of the population, these benefits might be outweighed by some potential health concerns. About 12% of us have a genetic variation in a caffeine-detoxifying enzyme, known as cytochrome p450 1A2, which leads to slower breakdown of caffeine. One study indicated an increased risk of heart attack among individuals with these genes who drank coffee. The risk increased with higher coffee intake. Likewise, coffee drinkers with these variations had higher risk of breast cancer in another study. The study seemed to indicate that if they didn’t drink coffee they had a slightly lower risk of breast cancer than the rest of the population.

So how do you know if you are in this 12%? Genetic testing is now a viable option since it has become inexpensive. Many people with this genetic variation can tell because caffeine will affect them longer or even cause strange symptoms. They might notice that a cup of coffee with supper or even lunch or breakfast keeps them awake at night.

For everyone else, some caffeine seems like a safe and possible protective part of the diet, but to quote one of my herbal medicine instructors, “the proper dose for this herbal medicine is 1-2 cups per day.” Over reliance on coffee to keep us energized might be masking underlying health issues to need to be addressed.

New Hope for Migraine Sufferers

Migraines are not all the same. People can have different symptoms and different triggers, but the misery and disruption they can cause is pretty consistent.

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Another thing that many migraine sufferers have in common is an inability to process certain vitamins. Recent studies have revealed that people with migraines, especially with auras, are more likely to have genetic variations in the enzymes that activate folic acid. They are more likely to have elevated homocysteine, a compound that can be a marker for a lack of appropriate B vitamins that our nervous systems need. Elevated homocysteine can be toxic to nerve cells and is associated with increased risk of heart disease.

One still needs to determine and reduce migraine triggers, but there is hope that regular intake the active form folate, known as methyltetrahydrofolate or methylfolate, can reduce the sensitivity to those triggers. For people with this genetic variation, it is also important to avoid the common form of folic acid added to some supplements and many processed foods. And always take B12, again the methyl form of B12, when you take any form of folate.

I am already seeing good results with this approach with my patients. Just a month ago, I had a patient try a new product called Eye Folate, made by a local eye doctor that contains these vitamins plus others for nerve and eye health. Her recent report to me was, “I’ve essentially had no migraines since I started it! So it looks like it’s working, thank you!”

For many migraine sufferers, products like these could be an important part the solution to help prevent this common and debilitating issue.