New research shows coffee can affect our metabolism in dozens of ways—including our metabolism of steroids and the neurotransmitters typically linked to cannabis—beyond the caffeine boost we expect in the morning.
“These are entirely new pathways by which coffee might affect health.”
After drinking four to eight cups of coffee in a day, people’s neurotransmitters related to the endocannabinoid system—the same ones that cannabis affects—decreased. That’s the opposite of what occurs after someone uses cannabis.
Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that deliver messages between nerve cells and cannabinoids are the chemicals that give the cannabis plant its medical and recreational properties. Our body also naturally produces endocannabinoids, which mimic cannabinoid activity.
Further, certain metabolites related to the androsteroid system increased after drinking four to eight cups of coffee in a day, which suggests coffee might facilitate the excretion or elimination of steroids. Because the steroid pathway is a focus for certain diseases including cancers, coffee may have an effect on these diseases as well, researchers say.
“These are entirely new pathways by which coffee might affect health,” says lead author Marilyn Cornelis, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Now we want to delve deeper and study how these changes affect the body.”
Little is known about how coffee directly impacts health. In the new study, which appears in the Journal of Internal Medicine, scientists applied advanced technology that allowed them to measure hundreds of metabolites in human blood samples from a coffee trial for the first time.
For the study, 47 people in Finland didn’t drink coffee for one month, then consumed four cups a day for the second month, and then eight cups a day for the third month. Researchers used advanced profiling techniques to examine more than 800 metabolites in the blood collected after each stage of the study.
Blood metabolites of the endocannabinoid system decreased with coffee consumption, particularly with eight cups per day.
The endocannabinoid metabolic pathway is an important regulator of our stress response, Cornelis says, and some endocannabinoids decrease in the presence of chronic stress.
“The increased coffee consumption over the two-month span of the trial may have created enough stress to trigger a decrease in metabolites in this system,” Cornelis says. “It could be our bodies’ adaptation to try to get stress levels back to equilibrium.”
Sweet, low-calorie foods confuse our metabolism
The endocannabinoid system also regulates a wide range of functions: cognition, blood pressure, immunity, addiction, sleep, appetite, energy, and glucose metabolism.
“The endocannabinoid pathways might impact eating behaviors…the classic case being the link between cannabis use and the munchies.”
The brew also has been linked to aiding weight management and reducing risk of type 2 diabetes.
“This is often thought to be due to caffeine’s ability to boost fat metabolism or the glucose-regulating effects of polyphenols (plant-derived chemicals),” Cornelis says. “Our new findings linking coffee to endocannabinoids offer alternative explanations worthy of further study.”
The American Diabetes Association, the German Federal Ministry of Health, and other sources funded the work.
This article was originally published at northwestern.edu and republished here under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.