Scientists Discover Coffee Addiction Genes

Photograph by John Baird

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham & Women’s Hospital have found six new gene variations linked to coffee consumption. The paper, published today in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, is a meta-analysis of other studies and relied on data from almost 130,000 coffee drinkers. As the Boston Globe describes the findings:

“Two of the gene variations were identified near genes BDNF and SLC6A4, which are thought to play a role in the rewarding effects of caffeine; the other variations were near genes involved in glucose and fat metabolism, blood pressure regulation, and addiction. Coffee drinkers had an increased likelihood of having high blood sugar levels and high cholesterol, but were less likely to have high blood pressure than those who abstained from the beverage.

One thing the genes weren’t linked to, the study authors emphasized, was taste. That underlines something we already knew, even in an age of ever-increasing coffee snobbery—the reason people drink coffee is because of the caffeine, and some people need caffeine a lot more than others.

The location of the genes raises the possibility that sometimes contradictory findings about the health effects of coffee consumption—lower blood pressure and lower risk of stroke among them—may in fact stem from the proximity of the caffeine gene to genes that regulate those bodily functions and are therefore likely to be inherited together. In other words, coffee may not cause all those things. It may be a quality shared by people who also happen to need and love coffee.

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