Do Your Genes Make You Do It?

April 10, 2011

The most popular coffee news story of the season seems to be the one about how your DNA, your genes, cause you to crave coffee/caffeine or not to. It has been reported that a study of 47,000 Americans over 17 years found that those with a certain gene consumed more caffeine than those without it. The conclusion is being drawn that we inherit the physical factors that are causing us all to either need more – or less - coffee than the person in the next cubicle at work. There are several ways to react to this story: Doubt in the study itself; considering the decades old problem of genes vs experience; and wondering why this story is so often repeated, are just three ways. First, considering the facts of the study, is it a foregone conclusion that because there is a relationship in data, one necessarily caused the other? No, there is no proof of the actual mechanism that might cause one to crave more coffee depending on inherited genetics. There is only a theory that resulted from a consideration of the data. One should not jump to conclusions. Humans are much more complex than their DNA. Many people train themselves to do the opposite of what their DNA would direct. Another thing: the difference in consumption between cravers and non-cravers was only one-third cup of coffee more a day. Is that really a significant difference? This brings us to the tension between genetics and environment, or the old nature vs. nurture conundrum. Maybe children act like their parents because they are taught by their parents as models. They not only share the same genetics, but they also shared the same environment, at least partially. So many of us might be thinking that we were adopted, because we grew up determined to NOT do things that our parents did, and we succeeded. We share the same DNA, so we should be programmed one way or the other, according to this study. Thirdly, why the popularity of the study? Do we really want to hear that our genes cause our behavior? And if so, are we looking for excuses for our behavior? Some of us, I hope, drink coffee because it has a singularly unique and delicious taste, which warms one in the winter and cools one down in the summer - assuming iced coffee is the hot weather choice. There have to be more than a few that don’t drink coffee for the buzz or for the caffeine. Certainly all the decaf drinkers aren’t drinking it for that reason. What kinds of genes do THEY have? This isn’t the place to consider the hundreds of reasons for drinking coffee, but we can all think of many. Look below for three very good - and delicious - reasons.



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