Skip to main content

Major Study Explores Genetics, Coffee Consumption and Health Outcomes

to-go coffee cup

A major study published last month reinforces the idea that some humans are genetically more inclined to drink coffee than others, while also exploring health outcomes among hundreds of thousands of coffee drinkers. 

The research team from Ontario’s Western University and the University of California San Diego (UCSD) led the genome-wide association study, known as a GWAS, using data from more than 130,000 research participants from 23andMe, and comparing results to those from UK Biobank research involving more than 330,00 participants. 

“We used this data to identify regions on the genome associated with whether somebody is more or less likely to consume coffee, and then identify the genes and biology that could underlie coffee intake,” Hayley Thorpe, a postdoctoral researcher at Western University and study lead, said in an announcement of the publication. 

The study was published June 11 in the Nature title Neuropsychopharmacology.

While the results from the two massive data sets found a similar genetic predisposition for coffee consumption, the results regarding genetics and health outcomes were far less clear, according to the researchers. 

coffee cup genetics

The comparison found consistent positive genetic associations between coffee and harmful health outcomes such as obesity and substance use. Thorpe noted that such an association doesn’t necessarily mean people who drink coffee are going to use substances or develop obesity, but that there is some genetic connection. 

However, inconsistencies between the U.S. and UK studies were abundant when applied to mental health conditions, such as anxiety, bipolar or depression. In the 23andMe data set, those conditions were positively genetically correlated with coffee, yet the opposite pattern was found in the UK Biobank data set.

“It’s common to combine similar datasets in this field to increase study power,” Thorpe said in a story shared by UCSD. “This information paints a fairly clear picture that combining these two datasets was really not a wise idea. And we didn’t end up doing that.”

The reasons for those discrepancies are not fully understood, but may be related to differences in data collection, genetic differences between the two populations or any number of cultural or environmental factors associated with coffee consumption, according to the research team. 

Thus, the study urged further research into the relationships between coffee consumption, substance use and health issues across different environments.

Comments? Questions? News to share? Contact DCN’s editors here