Are you one of those people who can pound a cup of coffee and fall sound asleep thirty minutes later? Or does the slightest drop of joe keep you awake and twitching nervously throughout the night? Whichever category you fall into, it turns out it’s all in your DNA. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have conducted the first large-scale study of how caffeine affects different people, and they found that there are six genetic variants that play a role in our coffee consumption.

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In the study, which is published in Molecular Psychiatry, over 120,000 people were polled about their coffee drinking habits. Researchers then analyzed the DNA of those individuals polled. What they were able to pinpoint are the six specific genetic components that influence the metabolic and neurological responses to caffeine. Speaking to Science Daily, Daniel Chasman, associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the study’s senior author, explained: “Like previous genetic analyses of smoking and alcohol consumption, this research serves as an example of how genetics can influence some types of habitual behavior.”

So on an individual level, if you’re the person always putting on a fresh pot of coffee in the office, it really may be your genes that are fueling your addiction. Participants in the study who inherited just one or two of the genetic components identified were found to drink less coffee than those who inherited five or six.

This finding will help researchers to better understand the potential health benefits and hazards of coffee as future studies are conducted. Speaking to CNN, lead author Marilyn Cornelis of the Harvard School of Public Health explained: “Most (human) population studies of coffee and health assume everyone responds to a given amount of coffee in the same way,” she said. “We know that isn’t true and we now have specific genetic variants that we can apply to our studies which will enable us to generate better results.”

+ Molecular Psychiatry


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