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Is coffee hurting you? The answer may depend on your genes

A new study has found four genes that react to caffeine consumption.
New research indicates that the effect of coffee on a person could depend on certain genes. iStockphoto
New research indicates that the effect of coffee on a person could depend on certain genes. iStockphoto

Scientists have long known that your DNA influences how much coffee you consume. Now a study has identified some of the genes that may play a role.

Their apparent effect is quite small, but variations in such genes may modify coffee’s effect on a person’s health, so genetic research could help scientists to explore this, says Marilyn Cornelis of the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the research.

The project analysed the results of about two dozen previous studies, which had a combined total of more than 120,000 participants. They had recorded how much coffee they drank each day, and allowed their DNA to be scanned. The new study looked for minute differences in their DNA that were associated with drinking more or less coffee.

Researchers found eight such variants, two of which had already been linked to coffee consumption.

Four of the six new variants implicate genes that are involved with caffeine, either in how the body breaks it down or in its stimulating effects, the researchers said in a paper published by the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The two other newly implicated genes were a surprise because there was no clear biological link to coffee or caffeine, says Cornelis. They are instead related to cholesterol levels and blood sugar.

Marian Neuhouser, a nutrition researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and a co-author of the study, says identifying genes related to consumption may one day help doctors identify patients who need extra help in cutting down on coffee.

For example, pregnant women are advised to consume only moderate amounts of caffeine because of the risk of miscarriage and the baby being born early, she says.

None of the identified gene­tic variants were related to how intensely a person tastes coffee, which Cornelis says is a surprise.

She doesn’t drink coffee, she says, because she can’t stand the stuff.

Updated: November 3, 2014 04:00 AM