Caffeine, the Wonder Drug? Study Suggests More Coffee Could Lower Body Fat and Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Genetic testing showed benefits of coffee for some, but doctors warn of potential side effects
March 20, 2023 (Fox News) – That morning cup of coffee might provide more benefits than just a quick energy boost. New research suggests that consuming higher levels of caffeine could help curb body fat and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Researchers at the University of Bristol, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and Imperial College in London conducted the study, which was published in the journal BMJ Medicine.
Analyzing genetic data from 9,876 European individuals who participated in six different long-term studies, the researchers specifically monitored the CYP1A2 and AHR genes, which influence the rate at which the body will metabolize caffeine.
Those who had genes that metabolized caffeine at a faster rate were associated with having a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower whole body fat mass.
They were also found to have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
Study co-author Dr. Benjamin Woolf, doctor of philosophy at the School of Psychological Science at the University of Bristol, confirmed that the results support an observational association between caffeine consumption and type 2 diabetes.
The FDA says 400 milligrams of caffeine per day (about four or five cups of coffee) is a safe amount.
“I was personally surprised by how much of this was mediated by weight loss,” he told Fox News Digital via email.
Dr. Bradley Serwer, chief medical officer of CardioSolution in Bethesda, Maryland, was not involved in the study but did not find the results surprising.
“Several studies have shown an association between caffeine and reduced risk of obesity and diabetes, but this study takes the next step to show causality,” he told Fox News Digital in an email.
“Using a mixture of genetic markers and plasma caffeine levels, this study helps us understand the effects of caffeine on a deeper level,” the doctor went on. “While this data isn’t definitive and was conducted primarily in only one ethnic group, it is very interesting and thought-provoking.”
Experts warn of potential risks
Caffeine’s benefits should be weighed against its potentially dangerous side effects, as Dr. Ahmet Ergin, a Florida-based endocrinologist with a specialty in diabetes care, told Fox News Digital.
Dr. Ergin was not involved in the study.
“Despite having long been billed as an elixir of life, caffeine can have some potentially harmful side effects if abused and over-supersized,” he said. “Excessive caffeine consumption can lead to insomnia, palpitations and even behavioral issues.”
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recommends sticking to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day.
That’s equivalent to about four to five cups of coffee — but Dr. Ergin pointed out that different people react differently to caffeine depending on their metabolism, tolerance and sensitivity.
Dr. Serwer of Maryland added that while caffeine has been linked to a bevy of benefits, it is still a stimulant.
“Some people who are at risk for cardiac arrhythmias and psychiatric disorders — such as insomnia, mania or bipolar disorders — may not tolerate the drug and may have adverse events,” he warned.
Caffeine previously linked to lower heart disease risk
This isn’t the first research to highlight caffeine’s potential health benefits.
Multiple studies have suggested links between coffee consumption and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, said Dr. Ergin.
“Research indicates that those who consume three to five cups per day have a lower risk of ischaemic heart disease and stroke than those who do not drink coffee,” he said.
“Caffeine can have some potentially harmful side effects if abused and over-supersized.”
“Further findings have shown that moderate coffee drinkers may also reduce their chances of developing heart failure, though it appears to have no effect on atrial fibrillation.”
Study had some caveats, researcher says
Study co-author Dr. Woolf pointed out that instead of measuring the direct effect of drinking more tea, coffee or other caffeinated beverages, the study predicted caffeine levels using the genetic variants that metabolize it.
In the real world, he noted, “people typically drink them with milk, sugar and possibly also a snack — all of which could cause weight gain.”
Additionally, Dr. Woolf explained that because genes are inherited at conception, the study estimated a lifetime effect.
“This could be very different from the short-term effect someone would see if they started consuming more caffeine after their doctor tells them to lose weight,” he said.
Another limitation is that the study focused primarily on people of European descent.
However, Dr. Woolf also pointed out what he sees as the real strength of the study: “Because we do not choose our genes and cannot change them, our results are much less likely to represent bias than a typical study,” he said.
Seek doctor’s input before ramping up caffeine
It’s best to consult with a doctor first before downing extra cups of coffee in the hope of lowering body fat.
“Like any drug, there are pros and cons that must be weighed,” Dr. Serwer said.
“One should consult and discuss the topic with a medical provider to determine if it would be safe and beneficial … If you are willing to accept the risk and the pros are significant, then it may be reasonable.”
The doctor added that while these study results may seem promising, there are no guarantees that people will lose weight or steer clear of diabetes merely by increasing their daily caffeine intake.
“There are proven ways to lose weight and lower blood sugar that aren’t dependent on caffeine,” he said.
Melissa Rudy is health editor and a member of the lifestyle team at Fox News Digital.