Is Caffeine Addiction In Your DNA?

By Paul Gaita 10/08/14

New research has found a direct link between caffeine and genetics.

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Long blamed for jittery nerves and poor sleeping habits, coffee has in recent years been cited as beneficial for a number of health issues, from breast cancer and diabetes to even a lower risk of death.

Exactly how coffee affects people in a positive manner, and others in a negative way, has long been a source of debate in the science community. But a new study, conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has found a direct link between caffeine and genetics.

More than 120,000 regular coffee drinkers of European and African-American origins were involved in a genome-wide meta-analysis, which identified two variants that mapped to genes involved in caffeine metabolism. Another pair identified near different genes may potentially influence the rewarding effects of caffeine, while two additional variants, involved with processing fats and sugars into the bloodstream, had previously not been linked with the metabolic or neurological effects of coffee.

The research shed new light on why caffeine affects individuals in different ways and how those effects influence coffee consumption. A single cup of coffee may provide enough stimulation for one person, while others may require two or more to feel the same effect. The latter amount may cause the single-cup-a-day person to feel more nervous, anxious, or even experience gastrointestinal distress, which would prevent them from consuming larger amounts in the future.

How this information is linked to the potentially beneficial aspects of coffee and caffeine is the subject of further research, according to Marilyn Cornelius, a research associate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who led the study.

“The next question is who is benefiting most from coffee,” she said. “If, for example, caffeine is protective, individuals might have very similar physiological exposure to caffeine. But if coffee has other potentially protective constituents, those levels are going to be higher if you drink more cups, so they might actually benefit from non-caffeine components of coffee. It’s a bit complex.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.