Could Coffee Be Contributing to Your Anxiety? Ask Your Genes

Isabelle Lucas-Beckett, PhD, Translational Geneticist
Isabelle Lucas-Beckett, PhD
Translational Geneticist

Co-author Bridget Nichols, RDN, CD, Arivale Coach

Your morning cup of coffee can give you a boost, but it’s important to remember the caffeine it contains is actually a powerful stimulant, which can heighten feelings of anxiety in some people. And, if you already feel anxious, too much caffeine may cause your anxiety to become worse.

This month, Arivale is bringing a new genetic insight for caffeine and anxiety – ADORA2A – to our members.

Occasional anxiety is normal. Many people feel anxious before job interviews, while speaking in public, or when faced with big life changes. This kind of anxiety is perfectly normal and typically goes away within a short amount of time.

There are also anxiety disorders that extend beyond the occasional anxious feeling. These include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders1. If you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, it’s always best to work with your doctor or mental health provider.

Both occasional anxiety and anxiety-related disorders can interfere with your personal and work life and prevent you from feeling like your best self.

So, what do genetics have to do with caffeine and anxiety?

The effect of caffeine on anxiety depends on how much caffeine you consume in one sitting and how often you consume it. But, it may also depend on your genetics.

A genetic variant in the ADORA2A gene has been associated with short-term feelings of anxiety after consuming caffeine2. The effect is stronger for people who don’t normally have much caffeine. Conversely, for people who regularly have caffeine, the effect was small, if any. In other words, if someone regularly drinks coffee, their body may be better at processing caffeine and the symptoms of anxiety may be less.

What does this mean for that morning cup of joe?

There’s potential for anyone to experience symptoms of anxiety shortly after a high amount of caffeine – which can be found in some medications and foods like soda and chocolate, as well as coffee – regardless of their genetics. But, knowing your genetic predisposition for caffeine and anxiety can help you understand what may be contributing to those anxious feelings.

For some people, caffeine reduction – or at least understanding how their body responds to caffeine – can be a powerful tool. It may not be possible to never feel anxious again – “life happens,” as the saying goes – but it is possible to reduce the severity of anxiety symptoms through mindfulness, diet, and other lifestyle changes. For example, Arivale Coaches regularly work with their members to come up with alternative morning rituals or to suggest drinks containing less caffeine should caffeine-related anxiety be manifesting itself.