If it’s you, then congratulations – you’re the lucky genetic winner of a trait that can give you a boost to good health, according to caffeine researcher Marilyn Cornelis, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“I tell people my cup of tea is coffee research,” Cornelis said. “It’s a hot topic.”
Why hot? Because studies find moderate amounts of black coffee – between 3 and 5 cups daily – have been shown to lower the risk of certain diseases, including Parkinson’s, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer.
But these benefits are likely to be more pronounced if coffee is free of all the milk, sugar and other fatty flavors we tend to add.
“We know that there is growing evidence to suggest that coffee consumption has a beneficial effect on health. But reading between the lines, anyone who advises anyone to consume coffee will typically advise them to consume black coffee because of of the difference between consuming black coffee and coffee with milk and coffee. sugar, “Cornelis said.
“One is naturally calorie-free. The other can possibly add hundreds of calories to your coffee, and the health benefits can be completely different,” she added.
A gene for coffee
In previous research, Cornelis and her team have discovered that a genetic variant may contribute to why some people enjoy several cups of coffee a day while others do not.
“People with the gene metabolize caffeine faster, so the stimulating effects disappear faster and they need to drink more coffee,” she said.
“This may explain why some individuals seem to be fine with consuming much more coffee compared to another who may get nervous or become very anxious,” she added.
“We found coffee drinkers with the genetic variant, which reflects a faster metabolism of caffeine, prefer bitter, black coffee,” Cornelis said. “We also found the same genetic variant in people who prefer plain tea over sweetened and bitter, dark chocolate over the softer milk chocolate.”
Bitter food and the mental boost
But here’s a twist. Cornelis and her team do not think the preference has anything to do with the taste of plain black coffee or tea. Instead, she said, people with this gene prefer black coffee and tea because they associate the bitter taste with the boost in mental alertness they crave from caffeine.
“Our interpretation is that these people equate the natural bitterness of caffeine with a psychostimulatory effect,” Cornelis said. “They learn to associate bitterness with caffeine and the boost they feel. We see a learned effect.”
The same goes for the preference of dark over milk chocolate, she added.
“When they think of caffeine, they think of a bitter taste, so they also enjoy dark chocolate,” Cornelis said. “It is possible that these people are just very sensitive to the effects of caffeine, and they also have the learned behavior with other bitter foods.”
Future studies will try to tackle the genetic preference for other bitter foods, Cornelis said, “which is generally associated with several health benefits.”
“It may show that individuals who are genetically predisposed to consume more coffee are also engaged in other potentially healthy behaviors,” she said.