<< Back to MOTIFvations Blog Home Page

Coffee, Tea, and CpG....does your favorite beverage affect DNA Methylation?

Coffee and tea cup

By Stuart P. Atkinson, Ph.D.

August 9, 2023

Introduction: Common Caffeinated Beverages with a Generally Unknown Association with Health

Coffee and tea ‐ the most consumed beverages worldwide besides water ‐ contain a complex mixture of compounds of various chemical classes; however, the pharmacologically-active substance caffeine may represent the most well-known. Interestingly, the impact on human health of regular coffee (Nieber) and tea (Khan and Mukhtar) consumption remains hotly debated, with a range of studies on this topic reporting often contradictory findings; furthermore, the detailed biological mechanisms that respond to coffee and tea consumption and then induce altered disease risk are incompletely understood.

 Back to Table of Contents

Linking DNA Methylation Alterations to Coffee and Tea Consumption

Epigenetics can mediate the effects of dietary and lifestyle factors on disease onset, and two previous epigenome-wide association studies (EWAS) reported the association of DNA methylation status at certain CpGs with tea or coffee consumption (Ek et al. and Chuang et al.); however, these studies employed modest sample sizes. To solve this problem and fully establish a strong link between coffee and tea consumption and human disease risk, researchers headed by Mohsen Ghanbari (Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, Netherlands) undertook a large-scale EWAS meta-analysis of blood samples isolated from around 16,000 middle-aged and elderly European and African American individuals from fifteen different cohorts.

 Back to Table of Contents

Coffee Beats Tea for Differential Methylation of CpGs

Karabegović and colleagues first described how their meta-analysis of coffee consumption revealed significant associations with differential DNA methylation of peripheral blood-derived DNA at eleven CpGs. Overall, high coffee intake correlated with lower methylation at CpGs annotated to the AHRR gene, which forms part of the xenobiotic metabolism pathway, and the F2RL3, GFI1, and IER3 genes, which are involved in a range of phenotypes, including inflammatory responses, cancer, and cardio-metabolic diseases. High coffee intake also induced the opposite effect at specific sites, inducing higher methylation at CpGs that annotated to the LINC-PINT gene, which currently lacks any reported links with disease predisposition, and the HDAC4 gene, which encodes a histone deacetylase involved in cocaine-related behaviors (Penrod et al. and Kumar et al.).

Additionally, one CpG sites (cg14476101; Whal et al.) with coffee-associated differential-methylation significantly associated with PHGDH (encoding phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase) gene expression and fatty liver disease risk (Ma et al.). These findings, combined with those of earlier EWAS, indicate that coffee intake alters PHGDH gene expression and liver function by altering the methylation of cg14476101. Interestingly, PHGDH knockdown in liver cells altered the expression of lipid-associated genes (decreased LPL and increased LDLR and ABCA1), suggesting that the regulation of PHGDH expression impacts lipid metabolism in the liver.

Unfortunately, the meta-analysis of tea consumption failed to reveal any significant associations, although two CpGs associated with the CACNA1A and PRDM16 (encoding a histone methyltransferase) genes displayed nominal associations. Compared with coffee, the lack of statistically significant associations compared to tea consumption may derive from the presence/higher abundance of specific nutrients only in coffee, such as caffeine or various phenolic compounds (Temple et al.).

 Back to Table of Contents

Tea and Coffee: Strengths and Weaknesses

Overall, this study suggests that coffee beats tea when altering DNA methylation levels at specific CpGs to modify disease risk. The large sample size and multi-ethnic contribution and the incorporation of different adjustment models to limit confounding represented the significant strengths of this study; however, the authors also note some limitations, such as a residual confounding effect of smoking (Joehanes et al.) (heavier smokers tend to drink more coffee (Bjørngaard et al.)) and the absence of age groups other than middle-aged and elderly individuals, which they aimed to address in their continuing research. They also noted the need to further explore the biological relevance of the associated DNA methylation sites and genes concerning different health outcomes.

For more on how coffee and tea may impact your DNA methylation profile to influence disease risk, see Nature Communications, May 2021.

 Back to Table of Contents


About the author

Stuart P. Atkinson

Stuart P. Atkinson, Ph.D.

Stuart was born and grew up in the idyllic town of Lanark (Scotland). He later studied biochemistry at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow (Scotland) before gaining his Ph.D. in medical oncology; his thesis described the epigenetic regulation of the telomerase gene promoters in cancer cells. Following Post-doctoral stays in Newcastle (England) and Valencia (Spain) where his varied research aims included the exploration of epigenetics in embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells, Stuart moved into project management and scientific writing/editing where his current interests include polymer chemistry, cancer research, regenerative medicine, and epigenetics. While not glued to his laptop, Stuart enjoys exploring the Spanish mountains and coastlines (and everywhere in between) and the food and drink that it provides!

Contact Stuart on Twitter with any questions

Related Articles

Single-Cell DNA Methylation Sequencing: Small Scale Differences Explain Big Effects!

Single-Cell DNA Methylation Blog

October 13, 2022
As an epigenetic mark, DNA methylation reveals valuable information on what’s going on inside a cell. In traditional bulk sequencing methods, DNA methylation signals are averaged out so that cell to cell variability in methylation is lost. Single-cell methods for DNA methylation can reveal these hidden signatures. But gathering DNA methylation data on a single-cell level has been challenging. Here we compare methods for scDNA Methylation assays that can uncover valuable insights into cell development, disease, and brain cell heterogeneity. As these have only been around for a short number of years, it’s almost certain that we’ve only just scratched the surface.

Read More

DNA Modifications Reveal the Splendor of the Plant Epigenetic Landscape

DNA Modifications Reveal the Splendor of the Plant Epigenetic Landscape

July 22, 2022
Would you like to explore the color and beauty of the epigenetic landscape of plants? Begin your journey with a discussion of recent publications highlighting the ongoing discovery and importance of DNA modifications in various plant species.

Read More

<< Back to MOTIFvations Blog Home Page