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Craving For Coffee May Be Passed Down Through Generations Of Genes

Researchers identified eight genetic variants associated with craving coffee.

A love for coffee may run deep in the Northwest, but now a Seattle scientist says the craving for coffee seems to be written into some people’s DNA.

Researchers from Harvard University, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and elsewhere sifted through the genes of more than 100,000 people, looking for common variants that correlate with heavy coffee consumption. They zeroed in on eight genetic variations associated with that deep compulsion to hoist a mug of joe.

“It does confirm what many people have thought was intuitive: coffee preferences vary across the population. There are some people who drink four or five or six cups a day,” said Marian Neuhouser, a nutritional epidemiologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a co-author of the study.  

The genetic link also suggests that a craving for coffee is inherited.

The genes identified in the study don’t all do the same thing. Some are associated with how we metabolize caffeine and other compounds, suggesting that people with that genetic signature might get an extra kick. Others are connected more generally with reward-seeking behaviors.

Neuhouser said this is not about finding the “coffee gene"; it’s more about how a collection of genetic quirks can lead to a certain behavior. And it’s possible the coffee craving is, at least in some cases, more of a marker for some more basic characteristic.

“Some of these similar drivers apply more broadly than to coffee. Genes are complex and diet is complex, and often we don’t have a simple story,” Neuhouser said.

It gets even more complex when you stir in culture, since coffee is a culturally specific activity and not all cultures drink it. A cohort of Pakistani subjects, for instance, didn’t show the same associations in the study.

The findings are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.