Craving Coffee? Blame the Genes


Some people insist they have to stop at Starbucks or a competitor to start their day. It may seem extreme to equate coffee consumption with other addictions, but scientific evidence supports it. People who find themselves craving coffee can look to their parents (or at least their genes) to assign “blame” for the desire.

There are genetic predispositions for alcoholism, breast cancer, depression, heart disease and, according to new research, coffee consumption. Researchers have found six genes that are linked to someone having cravings for coffee consumption, particularly how their body responds to caffeine consumed.

The research team indicated that the genes were not ones they would have assumed to be tied to coffee drinking. However, they show the genetic basis for people’s coffee consumption habits, according to Marilyn Cornelis, a nutrition research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health, who was the lead author on the study. The team believes that the genes could help explain why some people really like coffee and others do not.

The study analyzed information on 120,000 coffee drinkers. The researchers looked at 28 previous studies on genetics, specifically the participants in those studies who were regular coffee drinkers.

The team identified the six “coffee” genetic variants that impacted their caffeine metabolism and data on the quantity of coffee each of the subjects consumed daily. Published in Molecular Psychiatry, the analysis credits genetics with the side effects that can result from drinking caffeinated coffee. Those include the memory boost and mental acuity some coffee drinkers experience as well as the distractedness, per the study’s authors.

One finding was that individuals who drink considerable quantities of coffee seem to metabolize the caffeine faster than others do. The researchers theorized that could be due to their genes.

Two other genes appeared to be linked to the “kick” that people receive from caffeine. The team determined that those genes are tied to the brain’s pleasure centers, and likely influence the enjoyment that caffeinated coffee provides to many drinkers.

The final two genes identified were “unexpected,” according to the researchers. The duo were previously known to impact the metabolism of fats and sugars, but now are suspected of being tied to how the body reacts to coffee as well.

The researchers caution against concluding that coffee consumption is driven solely by one’s genes. There are many other factors, besides the body’s reaction to caffeine, that influence how much coffee people drink, from socialization to taste preferences to desire to stay awake. But how much those things impact consumption may be genetic in nature.

The researchers plan to conduct further analysis into the genes pinpointed in the study and see if they are tied to a person’s risk of certain diseases. Previous studies have indicated that coffee consumption may reduce one’s risk of Parkinson’s disease, liver disease and type 2 diabetes. Conversely, other research tied coffee to heart disease.

Coffee is popular worldwide, as evidenced by the proliferation of coffee houses. Starbucks alone is in 65 countries. Americans who drink coffee generally consume an average of two cups a day. In parts of Europe, four cups daily is often the norm. For those with a regular coffee habit, it may be a genetic predisposition to blame that makes the craving so strong that they cannot start the work or school day without a fresh cup of coffee.

By Dyanne Weiss

Business Week
Health Day
Boston Business Journal

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