Espresso, Americano, or decaf? Desire for a particular coffee driven by genetic code

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  • Cardio health – as reflected in blood pressure and heart rate – influences coffee consumption, according to new research
  • A study found that people with heart health conditions, such as hypertension, were more likely to drink less coffee, and that this was based on genetics
  • The lead study author stressed that this was a positive finding, as it shows that we're subconsciously self-regulating safe levels of caffeine 

It’s one of the most widely consumed drinks in the world, but did you know that the type of coffee you prefer, whether it be a short, black espresso, or a yummy, iced macchiato, may be influenced by your cardio health?

That’s right – according to the first-of-its-kind study involving data of more than 390 000 people, there is causal genetic evidence that your cardio (heart) health influences your coffee consumption.

The researchers from the University of South Australia who carried out the study found that people with high blood pressure, angina, and arrhythmia were more likely to drink less coffee, decaffeinated coffee or avoid coffee altogether compared to those without such symptoms – and that this was based on the participants’ genetics.

According to the lead researcher and Director of UniSA's Australian Centre for Precision Health, Professor Elina Hyppönen, this finding is something to be optimistic about as it shows that our genetics actively regulate the amount of coffee we drink, and in turn, protect us from consuming too much of it.

A 'protective genetic mechanism'

"People drink coffee for all sorts of reasons – as a pick me up when they're feeling tired, because it tastes good, or simply because it's part of their daily routine," Hyppönen said in a press release. Globally, an estimated two billion cups of coffee are consumed every day, according to an article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

"But what we don't recognise is that people subconsciously self-regulate safe levels of caffeine based on how high their blood pressure is, and this is likely a result of a protective genetic mechanism,” added Hyppönen.

By this, she means that an individual who drinks a lot of coffee is likely more genetically tolerant of caffeine, compared to someone who drinks very little. 

"Conversely, a non-coffee drinker, or someone who drinks decaffeinated coffee,” explained Hyppönen, “is more likely prone to the adverse effects of caffeine, and more susceptible to high blood pressure."

The team reached these findings after using data from the UK Biobank and examined the habitual coffee consumption of 390 435 people, and then compared this with baseline levels of systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as their baseline heart rate. If your BP is recorded as 120/80mmHg, the number on top is the systolic pressure, and the bottom number the diastolic, explains a Health24 article.

Genetics guide our decisions

High blood pressure, medically known as hypertension, is a risk factor for several chronic health conditions such as stroke and heart failure. In South Africa, more than one in three adults lives with the condition and it is responsible for one in every two strokes, and two in every five heart attacks, notes the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA.

Hyppönen reiterated that the amount of coffee we drink is likely to be an indicator of our cardio health: "Whether we drink a lot of coffee, a little, or avoid caffeine altogether, this study shows that genetics are guiding our decisions to protect our cardio health.

"If your body is telling you not to drink that extra cup of coffee, there's likely a reason why. Listen to your body; it's more in tune with your health than you may think," she said.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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READ | The secret to brewing the perfect cup of espresso

READ | Should you drink coffee on an empty stomach?

READ | What's wrong with microwaved tea? Science weighs in

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