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Do you start your day with a cup of freshly brewed coffee? Does a cup of tea warm your insides and leave you feeling fresh in the evening? Do you stock up energy drinks in your fridge to help handle late nights?

All these beverages have one thing in common - caffeine.

Caffeine is an organic compound found in plant sources. Caffeine is a legally accepted and consumed psychoactive drug ( a chemical that alters nervous system functions). Caffeine alters a person’s mood, behavior, and energy levels. 

Is caffeine good or bad for health? The controversial aspects of caffeine

While some studies have praised the beneficial effects of caffeine on human health, others warn about the health risks. Why does the same substance lead to different health outcomes?

The answer to these questions is not only applicable to caffeine but also to a lot of other substances.

We are all genetically unique. While some substances produce relatively similar effects on our bodies- many substances, including caffeine, are processed differently in different individuals.

When a drug fails a clinical trial- it does not mean that every individual who took that drug failed to respond. On the other hand, there is no approved drug that works equally well on every individual.

It is common knowledge that some drugs work really well for some, but not for others. We need higher doses of certain drugs and lower doses of others. There is a dose difference for certain drugs for men, women and children.

Caffeine is no different. Unless the genetics and other factors are accounted for, it will not be easy to say whether caffeine is good or bad for you. Keep reading to find out the unique genetic aspects of caffeine metabolism (processing in the body) 

Benefits Of Consuming Caffeine

Sources Of Caffeine

There are about 60 species of plants that can produce caffeine. Few top sources are:

Did you know that about 85% of Americans consume at least one caffeinated drink a day? Coffee remains the most consumed caffeinated drink among adults. 

How much caffeine is too much? Do you have to give up on caffeine to lead a healthy lifestyle? Keep reading to know more.

The Story Behind Caffeine Consumption

The history of caffeine is closely associated with the histories of its plant sources.

It was 2437 BCE. The Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was relaxing in his garden. The wind blew a couple of leaves into his cup of boiling water. He noticed that the water changed color and smelled fragrant. The leaves were later identified to be from the tea shrubs. Tea leaves are considered a stimulant (a drink to energize the body).

There are many stories on the discovery of caffeine. Some scripts say the ethnic Oromo people of Ethiopia recognized coffee beans to have energizing properties.

The more popular version is of Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder. He noticed his goats getting all excited after consuming coffee beans. He mentioned this in a monastery and the first cup of coffee was brewed there.  

The leaves of the yaupon holly tree were brewed as early as 8000 and 1000 BC. This was then known as the black drink.

In many West African cultures, it is still a regular practice to chew on kola nuts when people feel tired.

Caffeine At The Molecular Level- Getting Technical 

Caffeine is very easily absorbed by the body. 99% of caffeine is absorbed in about 45 minutes.

Once you consume a caffeinated beverage, it enters the gastrointestinal tract. Caffeine is processed in the liver by an enzyme that breaks it apart into different chemicals like paraxanthine, theobromine, and theophylline.

Peak levels of caffeine are observed in the plasma between 15 minutes and 120 minutes after oral consumption. 

Caffeine easily reaches the brain. Adenosine is a chemical in the brain that induces sleep. The structure of caffeine is similar to that of adenosine. Caffeine attaches itself to the adenosine receptors (a protein that responds to adenosine) and prevents people from feeling sleepy. 

The more caffeinated beverages you drink, the more adenosine receptors your body will produce. 

Over time, you will need more amounts of caffeine to keep you awake. 

Did You Know?

Plant sources are not the only way to get your dose of caffeine. Caffeine is artificially synthesized in industries too. 

The production of caffeine in industries began during World War II. Germans were unable to obtain caffeine because of various trading bans. They hence had to create caffeine artificially.

Today, synthetic caffeine is very cheap and tastes just like natural caffeine. It would not be surprising if you cannot tell the difference between the two. 

While synthetic caffeine is safe when had in small amounts, the problem is with the manufacturing process. Ammonia goes through a lot of steps and chemical interactions to turn into caffeine. 

The synthetic caffeine industry is also unregulated in most countries. All this makes synthetic caffeine a slightly worrying product in the market.

Recommended Daily Intake

What Are The Symptoms of Caffeine Overdose

What Are The Symptoms Of Caffeine Withdrawal

Caffeine is addictive. Your body goes through withdrawal symptoms when you try to reduce your caffeine intake. Few popularly noticed symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are:

Withdrawal symptoms can start 24 hours after giving up caffeine and can last for up to 9 days. 

Non-Genetic Factors That Cause Caffeine Sensitivity

Caffeine sensitivity refers to having an adverse reaction to consuming caffeine. For most people, consuming more than 400 mg of caffeine can cause physical and mental discomforts.

Few others can be hypersensitive to caffeine and cannot tolerate it even in small quantities. Here are some non-genetic factors causing caffeine sensitivity.

How Genetics Influences Caffeine Intake

How are some people able to process caffeine better than others? Genetics is the answer.

CYP1A2 gene - The CYP1A2 gene influences how fast caffeine is processed in your body and how you react to it. One particular SNP that can increase or decrease the effects of caffeine consumption is the rs762551.

AA genotype

AC and CC genotype 

ADORA2A gene - The ADORA2A gene produces the adenosine receptors in the brain. You know by now that caffeine attaches itself to the adenosine receptors and prevents the person from feeling tired or sleepy.

The ADORA2A gene is also responsible for increasing dopamine levels (the happy hormone). Variations in the ADORA2A gene are said to cause mood swings, anxiety, and irritation.

Recommendations For Healthy Caffeine Consumption


Caffeine is a legally consumed drug that can alter the mood and increase attention and focus. It is naturally present in up to 60 plant sources. It is also artificially produced in industries. Normal adults have to limit their caffeine intake by up to 400 mg. Caffeine overdose can lead to mood disorders, rapid heartbeats, and high blood pressure. Caffeine withdrawal has to be handled gently and causes symptoms like depression, anxiety, and low energy levels. Genetically, some people can show high caffeine sensitivity and need to monitor their caffeine consumption. 



The greatest wealth that one can ever earn is good health! Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. In the recent years, one of the best aspects of health care reform is that it has started to emphasize on prevention. When we talk about prevention, it is certain that identification (or in medical terms diagnosis) of any health disorder is elemental for its prevention. Whenever there is a mention about diagnosis, we systematically follow an ‘ABCD’ pattern, that is., Anthropometry (height, weight, BMI and other physical determinants), biochemical parameters (biological markers, for instance blood, urine, sputum), Clinical presentations (Blood Pressure, body temperature, consciousness) and finally Dietary considerations (meal pattern, frequency of consumption of different foods, food allergies to name a few). But still the fact that genetic make-up of a person decides his/her physical appearance, intelligence, behavioral patterns, health outcomes and ageing pattern is compelling enough to allocate space for genetic aspects in wellness and disease prevention approaches.

The effect of dietary factors on health status has been recognized since antiquity. Food and its components directly or indirectly influence gene expression. Genetic predispositions in turn dictate unique dietary needs and requirements. Nutrigenetics, a field of Life Science aims to identify genetic susceptibility to diseases and the vital role of genetic variation in affecting the nutrient intake. While Nutrigenomics focuses on the effect of food and food constituents on gene expression. According to Nutrigenetics, the current science of food and the nutrition it provides when interweaved with genetic insights and applied mindfully, can have a myriad restorative and therapeutic capacity to cure health disorders.  ‘One size fits all’  approach  to  dietary and fitness recommendations leaves a gap which stands miles away from best desirable results for an individual. Hence,a personalized health care approach focusing on lifestyle modification is built on the basis of genetic assessment.

Synergistic role of genetic assessment and lifestyle in a healthy life

Credit: Nestle institute of health science

A small genetic change, or variation, that occurs within a person’s DNA sequence can have an impact on his/her nutrient metabolism. Genetic assessment will give you a clear picture of your genetic information in relation to a nutrient metabolism which in turn has relevance to health conditions. Genetic risks may be offset by favorable changes in lifestyle. Lifestyle is a comprehensive approach featuring diet, physical activity, stress management and personal habits. Amongst the three strong pillars for a healthy life, that is., diet, exercise and sleep, diet is rated the top most.

Genetic assessment aims to develop rational means to optimize the lifestyle of an individual with respect to his/ her genotype. This personalized health approach promotes disease prevention in the long run. For instance, your meal pattern, meal timings and even the type of snacks can be recommended to suit you best if you understand the pattern of genes like FTO, LEP, LEPR and CCK which influence appetite, meal quantity, satiety response and the urge to snack. Individuals carrying a variation in such genes tend to have a difficulty in following proper meal timings and meal quantities and thereby they are likely to overeat. A balanced diet with adequate dietary fiber, and healthy snacks timed appropriately can prove beneficial in their weight control.

Likewise, the type of cooking oil that you should be using or the type of nuts that you should be consuming to stay heart-healthy by maintaining optimal triglyceride levels is decided by a gene called APOA5. A variation in the APOA5 gene may demand from you a revised recommendation for n-6 fatty acids (<6% of total calories compared to the general recommendation of <10% of total calories) to help you in maintaining your triglyceride levels.

Your digestive tolerance for milk & its products is also decided by your genes. Variations in MCM6 gene may demand from you fermented milk products intake to compensate for reduced lactase activity and to stay flatulence-free. Can you drink 3 cups of coffee in a day or should it necessarily be alternated with another refreshing beverage like green tea? Is another question to which the answer is in your genes like CYP1A2.

AGT gene encodes for Angiotensinogen, which causes sodium retention in the body. Individuals with a genetic variation show increased sensitivity to dietary salt intake. Revised salt restriction norms (<3.5 grams of table salt as against <5 grams given by WHO) are recommended to maintain optimal sodium levels and prevent hypertension in these individuals.

Know your genes! Sow healthy habits and reap lifelong wellness.

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