Coffee: Is it right for your genes?

Coffee — is it good or bad for you? Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world, second only to tea. It is sometimes controversial due to its caffeine content.

Large, population-wide studies have shown many benefits of coffee consumption, including decreasing the risks of heart disease, endometrial cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, cirrhosis, prostate cancer, and stroke. On the other hand, large population studies often miss an individual’s reaction to a substance, and coffee’s benefits can vary based on your genes.

Coffee Consumption

Studies have shown many benefits of coffee consumption, including decreased risk of:

  • endometrial cancer
  • diabetes
  • Parkinson’s disease,
  • liver cancer
  • cirrhosis
  • prostate cancer
  • stroke
  • heart disease

Antioxidants in Coffee

Coffee is actually the “number one source of antioxidants in the U.S diet, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Stanton”.[ref]

In brewed coffee, several micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, and niacin, are available in somewhat significant levels, but variations in soil nutrients, processing, and brewing do make a difference in the micronutrient levels per cup.[ref]

Caffeine affects people differently

Whether you start your morning with a cup of coffee or tea, caffeine remains the most popular ‘drug’ of choice for a large percentage of the population.

Caffeine wakes us up by blocking the adenosine receptor. Caffeine also acts as a central nervous system stimulant, increasing reaction time.

Genetics determines how quickly your body processes and eliminates caffeine and whether it is likely to make you jittery or anxious.

Adenosine Receptors:

Adenosine is a molecule used in the body for a variety of purposes. One action of adenosine makes us sleepy at the end of the day. Adenosine builds up in the brain over the course of the day and then is cleared out more quickly at night. Higher levels of adenosine make us feel sleepy, driving us to go to sleep at night.

Caffeine can also bind to the adenosine receptors in the brain, blocking the receptors and making you feel more alert.

Changes to the adenosine A2A receptor gene (ADORA2A) also give rise to variations in how we respond to caffeine. Changes in how the adenosine receptor functions due to genetic variants can alter a person’s response to caffeine.[ref]

Coffee: Genotype Report

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CYP1A2 gene:

This gene codes for the enzyme that metabolizes or breaks down caffeine in the body.

  • If you are a slower metabolizer, you will feel the effects of caffeine for a longer period of time.
  • If you are a fast metabolizer, you will break down and get rid of caffeine more quickly from your system.

Check your genetic data for rs762551 (23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):

  • C/C: Slower metabolizer of caffeine
  • A/C: Intermediate metabolizer of caffeine
  • A/A: Fast metabolizer of caffeine[ref] heavy coffee drinkers have a decreased risk of a heart attack.

Members: Your genotype for rs762551 is .

Slow metabolizers of caffeine (rs762551 A/C or C/C) might have a slightly increased risk of a heart attack when drinking more than 2 cups of coffee per day. Fast metabolizers (A/A) may have a decreased risk of heart attack with coffee consumption, with heavy coffee drinkers shown to have a significantly decreased risk that is about 70% less than average.[ref][ref] The studies on this aren’t completely clear, with some showing risk and others not finding a risk.[ref]

ADORA2A Gene (Adenosine 2A receptor):

This gene codes for the adenosine receptor protein, which, among other things, plays a role in regulating dopamine and glutamine release in the brain. Caffeine partially blocks the receptor. Both of the variants listed below are very common.

Check your genetic data for rs5751876 (23andMe v4, v5)

  • C/C: no increase in anxiety from caffeine
  • C/T: no increase in anxiety from caffeine
  • T/T: high caffeine dose more likely to make you anxious[ref][ref]

Members: Your genotype for rs5751876 is .

Check your genetic data for rs2298383 (23andme v5 only):

  • T/T: no increase in anxiety from caffeine (avg. amount)
  • C/T: no increase in anxiety from caffeine
  • C/C: high caffeine dose more likely to make you anxious[ref][ref]

Members: Your genotype for rs2298383 is .

Interesting studies on these ADORA2A variants:

  • Anxiety: While the two variants above are tied to increased anxiety with caffeine, they are also found to correspond with increased anxiety in general (not linked to caffeine).[ref]
  • Have dry eyes? These two ADORA2A variants lead to slightly increased tear volume with caffeine consumption.[ref]
  • Caffeine intake: A study found that those who were more susceptible to anxiety from caffeine were also likely to have a higher habitual caffeine intake. Those drinking more coffee tended to build up a tolerance to the anxiety-inducing effects regardless of genotype.
  • BRCA1 and Breast Cancer: For those with a BRCA1 mutation, one study found that coffee consumption before age 35 for those with the rs5751876 C-allele reduced their risk of breast cancer by 64%.[ref]
  • Wake-up effect of caffeine: People with the rs5751876 C/C genotype showed a higher sensitivity to the alerting effects of normal caffeine consumption.[ref]


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About the Author:
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering and also an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.