Research has shown how coffee affects DNA
The consumption of coffee is associated with a low blood sugar level, liver health, better memory, protection against the development of dementia, and perhaps even a longer overall life expectancy. Along with these impressive effects, coffee contains compounds that boost our mood and usually make us more tolerant.
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In the latest study, scientists wanted to find out how coffee and to some extent tea are related to these health benefits. Most studies of coffee and tea are observational, relying heavily on correlation rather than causation, so finding a cause for health benefits has been quite difficult.
The researchers focused their search on epigenetic changes, i.e. the influence of the environment (coffee and tea consumption) on gene expression. Gene expression is the process of converting inherited information into a functional product (RNA or protein).
The work included epigenomic Association studies of coffee and tea consumption by nearly 15,800 people of European and African-American descent. Scientists say that this is one of the project's greatest strengths — the large number of people observed from different ethnic groups.
By controlling for other factors that may also affect people's genes, the researchers focused on epigenetic associations specific to coffee and tea consumption. They found a significant group that reduces the risk of certain diseases, especially liver and heart diseases. The process by which coffee compounds affect our genes is called DNA methylation.
"Taken together, this study shows that coffee consumption is associated with differential levels of DNA methylation and that coffee-related epigenetic variations may explain the mechanism of influence of coffee consumption on disease risk," the researchers report.