I Can Do WHAT With Coffee??

Running around like a chicken

I remember the first time I tried coffee. It was Folger’s instant. It was like an instant WOW KAPOW KAZAM KABLOOIE. Not knowing any better, I had half a jar over the course of a day. (It was a teeny tiny convenience store jar, maybe 2 ounces?). When I went to work that night, I was gleefully buzzing around working like a little speed demon. My boss, a tiny quirky blonde woman, gave me a strange look, tilted her head to one side, and told me I had a great future ahead of me as a drug addict. I had no idea what she was talking about. I remember just as vividly the next morning when I woke up. I remember dreaming that I was dead, and waking up thinking I was. That only lasted a brief moment, but it was a decidedly memorable and uncomfortable experience. I’ve been wary of coffee ever since.

So much has happened with this project over the past week that I can’t keep up with the blogging I want to do. I have several more posts lined up in my mind waiting for time to write them. This one comes from the next piece in the report, the Drug Report, in which they scan the genome for unusual reactions to ten (10) medications. Today I’m just looking at one. You can guess, of course, from the picture and title.


According to their test scan I am a fast metabolizer of caffeine. “Aye, aye, aye! Andale, andale! Arriba, arriba!” to channel the ghost of Speedy Gonzalez. The medical importance of this is that I am relatively unlikely to suffer from a heart attack as a result of ingesting too much coffee. Or am I?

In real life, I do have some heart arrhythmias, and coffee makes them, well, it makes my heart behave badly and makes me feel quite unwell. Also, I can’t tolerate it. Because of the way coffee messes with my blood sugars, I gave it up almost ten years ago, and switched to decaf, black, no sugar. I’ve since learned that coffee was a big contributor to my problems sleeping. (DUH!) If I even have one cup of DECAF after mid afternoon, it keeps me from going to sleep at night, I’ll just toss and turn. So I avoid it. Decaf only, never after lunch.

I made a phonecall to the genetic counselor on staff at Pathway Genomics and asked her about this. Saying that I was relatively safe from the ill effects of caffeine seemed … like perhaps they had someone else’s sample. She almost laughed. Evidently they get this question a LOT. Fast metabolizers of caffeine tend get a strong hard buzz FAST. They react fast, they almost over-react. They really feel it.

Oh. Right. That makes sense. OK. But … so why do such tiny amounts of decaf coffee keep me up at night? Well, there she was stumped. Good question. About all she could come up with was that there must be something else going on. So maybe there is something else in the coffee besides caffeine that is keeping me awake. Or maybe there is some other gene that is effecting how my body interprets caffeine. So many things that happen with us are not the result of a single gene. And we just don’t know everything about the human genome.


2 thoughts on “I Can Do WHAT With Coffee??

  1. Decaff affects me the same way. If I drink a cup after lunch, I can’t sleep at night. For over a year now, for morning coffee I measure one teaspoon of a mixture I have made (3/4 decaff and 1/4 reg. instant coffee). It gives me a kick and I like that. I can still sleep at night. Any more than that and I won’t be able to sleep at bedtime. But occasionally I will want something when I’m out with a friend or something, and have a cup of decaff from a coffee shop. I don’t get a buzz, so I know it’s decaff, but once again I am not sleeping, so I’m googling it instead. I found myself wondering if it’s something else besides the caffeine that can keep a person awake, and see that you wondered that too.

  2. Excellent questions, Mary, and I’m glad to know I’m not alone in this! However, I have no answers or new information. I’m guessing it probably isn’t top of anyone’s research agenda, either. For now, I guess us patients will just have to share the information amongst ourselves. We know that decaf DOES have some caffeine in it. My docs are chalking my reaction up to that small amount. Entirely possible!

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