Can drinking coffee protect against MS?

I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t start the day without a nice, strong cup o’ joe (or two). Some interesting new findings appear to suggest that my coffee habit is nothing to be ashamed of. Results from a new study have just been released linking coffee consumption to a reduced risk of MS. Data from the study are to be presented in April at the upcoming American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting in Washington. Although details are still scarce, the findings are available in abstract form (you will need to register before you can read the abstract, but registration is free).

coffee

Image credits: Coffee related by trophygeek / CC BY

 

The observational study, conducted by a collaborative international team of researchers including Dr. Ellen Mowry, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, examined data sets from two populations: one in Sweden consisting of 1,629 people with MS and 2,807 health controls, and an American group of 584 people with MS and 581 healthy controls.

The research team found that high coffee intake was associated with reduced odds of developing MS in both populations. In the Swedish study, individuals who drank 6 or more cups of coffee daily had 1/3 the chance of developing MS the following year than those who eschewed coffee completely. The seemingly protective effects of coffee appear to apply over the long-term as well, since those who drank large quantities of coffee over 5- and 10-year periods before the emergence of symptoms showed a comparable reduced risk of MS as those in the 1-year study period. In the American study, people who drank 4 cups or more per day had reduced their risk of MS by 1/3 compared to those who didn’t drink coffee.

Both studies controlled for other factors that are known to contribute to MS risk, including age, sex, smoking, and sun exposure habits.

This population-based study follows on the heels of earlier experiments testing the effects of caffeine in mice with an MS-like disease. Those experiments, conducted by researchers at Cornell University, showed that mice given the human-equivalent of six to eight cups of coffee per day were protected from the onset of disease symptoms. Caffeine stimulates arousal and produces its characteristic “buzz” by blocking the receptors for a molecule in the brain called adenosine, which has been shown to promote sleep. Adenosine also stimulates certain immune cells and drives their entry into the central nervous system. The authors of the study hypothesized that one mechanism by which caffeine can protect against MS is by blocking adenosine and preventing the efficient entry of these harmful immune cells into the brain and spinal cord during the initiation of MS-like disease in mice.

The findings from this new population study are not entirely surprising, given that caffeine has been shown to have protective effects in other neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand, although the study identified a correlation between coffee consumption and decreased MS risk, it can’t speak to whether drinking coffee causes the decrease in risk, nor whether people already living with MS can benefit from increased coffee intake. Further research is necessary before more definitive conclusions can be made.

Do you like a fresh cuppa before you start your day, or is it not your thing? Leave a comment below.

18 thoughts on “Can drinking coffee protect against MS?

  1. SANDRA MAE WATTS

    I do get started with 2 coffee in the am! A must. But my nystagmus, ßleep, overheating and tremor preclude consumption of more.
    I am still mobile, have had MS over 30 years.
    Sandy 59 yr old female

    Reply
  2. Ian Babcock

    Well, it’s too late for me for coffee to have any preventative effect as far as MS is concerned ( I’ve had MS for 35 years) but it’s good to know that my coffee consumption could prevent Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. I’m like you Karen, I NEED my coffee to get started every day. 😀

    Reply
  3. Michele

    I love my morning coffee!! Sometimes it takes two coffee’s for me to get enough energy to go for my walk. 🙂
    I have MS, diagnosed in 2004, and would love to find out if coffee consumption post diagnosis is helpful. Could it halt disease progression? (fingers crossed }{ }{ )

    Reply
    1. drkarenlee Post author

      Hi Michele,

      That is an excellent question. The recent study to come out only examines the link between coffee consumption and the risk of MS to determine whether caffeine might have a protective effect in the healthy population. To date, there has been very little research examining the effects of caffeine on disease progression and relapse rate in individuals who have already been diagnosed with MS. In fact, excessive caffeine consumption, particularly later in the day, is discouraged in people living with MS who use caffeine as a way to manage their fatigue, since caffeine acts as a stimulant that can disturb sleep and worsen fatigue the following day. Generally, it’s recommended that you drink your last cup no later than early afternoon to ensure you get a night of uninterrupted sleep, although like all things, this can vary from person to person. Specific advice on managing fatigue can be provided by your doctor, and more information can be found in our Living Well with MS: Managing Fatigue booklet.

      Dr. K

      Reply
  4. Tina

    Would enjoy knowing that research shows that my daily consumption of coffee helps the deter future attacks. I drink between 2-3 cups throughout my day.

    Reply
    1. drkarenlee Post author

      Hi Tina,

      Please see my answer to Michele’s question below, which should hopefully address your question about how coffee intake affects relapse rate and progression in people living with MS.

      Dr. K

      Reply
  5. Colleen

    I was told I have MS 2002 I drink coffee all day long at least 15 cups a day or more And my fellow MS friend does not drink any he is confined to his scooter And I am still walking. Don’t get me wrong It hurts to walk any distance but I can ! I am on 3800 ml of pain reliever as well . Nothing manages my pain.

    Reply
  6. tom wilkins

    I was told 1 month ago I have ppms always been a heavy coffee drinker and very active just today I picked up a disabled parking permit due to my poor walking 49year old male

    Reply
  7. Jason

    So this is where some of our Research Money goes?
    Giving caffeine to mice after decades of saying food does not matter and that stills happens today.
    No wonder some quit donating for research!

    Reply
    1. drkarenlee Post author

      Hi Jason,

      Thank you for voicing your concern. The study I talk about in this article wasn’t funded by the MS Society, and in my blog I try to highlight interesting research developments from around the world. Having said that, studies like this one are important because they take a close look at patterns of health and disease in different populations in order to identify both risk factors and protective factors in the development of certain diseases. Since caffeine is consumed around the world, be it in coffee, tea, chocolate, or certain soft drinks, determining how such a common lifestyle factor affects the risk of developing MS is crucial not only for helping researchers come up with preventative strategies, but also to understand what mechanisms in the body lead to the disease.

      Dr. K

      Reply
  8. Michael

    I’ve had MS for many years. It was detected in me around 18 years ago, but still appears to be benign. I don’t know how long I had it before it was accidentally found. I drink coffee. I love coffee in the morning. I like it strong, black and hot. I know it affects me, and I enjoy the way it does. If it helps me and my MS? All the better!

    Reply
  9. Shelly B

    I was a regular coffee drinker for years before I was diagnosed with MS in January 2014 at the age of 42. It didn’t prevent the MS….but maybe it could have contributed to a delay in the onset (we’ll never know)? I did have an episode of MS-type symptoms about 12 years ago but the MRI was normal and then did not have symptoms again until 2013 and the diagnosis in 2014. I have recently stopped drinking coffee (it was very hard to quit) thinking it was the healthy thing to do but I may need to rethink that decision. Thanks for the information!

    Reply
    1. drkarenlee Post author

      Hi Shelly,

      Thank you for sharing your story. MS is a complex disease brought on by the interaction between various environmental and genetic factors, many of which are still not fully understood. Some people with several risk factors may never go on to develop MS, while others with no known risk factor do. In the same vein, someone with several protective factors may still develop MS, although, like you say, the course of the disease may be altered. Whatever the outcome, knowing your risk and protective factors is an important way for you and your health care provider to make informed choices about your lifestyle and treatment plan.

      Dr. K

      Reply
  10. Cinara

    Dr. Karen Lee your blog is great! Mrs.. speaks in a pleasant way on the issues involving the MS. I am 30 years old and found MS last year to 29. Until then I never had felt anything in my life, until they got a tingling in the body and 02 months after the diagnosis was closed for the disease and initiating treatment (in my column resonance appeared one lesion in the cervical between C1 and C2 and one lesion in the brain. Some 04 months before symptoms begin I like a strong throat infection). I am natural and I live in Brazil, do treatment with Copaxone. In theory have no sequelae, my EDSS is 01, just feel a sense of heaviness in the legs and inconvenient and therefore the EDSS score. I’ve been told that you can fatigue the muscles of the legs (a form of fatigue even though I did not feel tired) or muscle weakness, because I do not suffer from spasticity. So far I am the only case of MS in my family… I found it very interesting his study of mesenchymal cells, I’m hoping everything goes right and become a viable, safe and effective to treat MS. … Always drink coffee, but with milk … I’ll try to take it pure and see if it helps in any thing, but of course everything in moderation … Congratulations on your great work, be interested in the development of therapies for MS, and God bless Mrs. and his team on this journey … Maybe the cure and the exact causes of MS may one day be a fact and not a “hypothesis” …

    Reply
  11. Jean

    my daughter was diagnosed with ms last year, after she had a baby, she was 28. She does not drink coffee, nor do I. My first cousin also was diagnosed after giving birth.

    Reply
  12. Heinz J. Mensing

    Hello Dr. Lee,
    coffee is not = caffeine. That is a common mistake.
    Coffee for example contains much caffeic acid, a polyphenol, which binds iron, reduces bioavailability of iron from the gut, therefore will lower iron storage in the body.
    Caffeic acid might also acl like an iron chelator drug and remove iron from the body via the kidneys. Therefore I bet that it is the reduction of iron stores which is important in keeping healthy, including dementia, Parkinson’s…
    Please get a (used) copy of Randall B. Lauffer (former Harvard medical chemistry professor) “Iron and your heart” 1993 (by no way confined to heart diseases) to learn what was known at that time about iron storage in the body and scores of diseases, mainly diseases of old(er) age.

    In the 22 years since that time a lot more has been learned about iron and (brain) health. Why do neurologists not read what their neuroradiologist collegues find out (with 3- and 7T MRI machines) about “micro bleeds”, iron and neurodegeneration, including MS lesions, starting with CIS? (One name which comes to my mind is prof. Rohit Bakshi, (now) at Harvard…)

    Iron is highly important in MS from CIS to late progression!
    I started to get rid of my stored iron (2,5…3 g) late in 1993 by a series of 11 phlebotomies, followed by 75 blood donations in about 15 years, and now on phelbotomies again (after not allowed to donate blood any more):
    I am very confident that my brain will stay quite healthy until I am 100 – no risk of dementia as has been the case in the last generation in my family.

    Why does it take decades to “discover” simple things which have been known for millenia? “Blood letting” has been known in ancient times as a means to lower high blood pressure (“pulsus durus”) and prevent diseases of old age.
    It works, as shown by lots of modern studies, just a few names:
    Eugene D. Weinberg, Jerome L.Sullivan (LANCET “iron hypothesis” in 1981), Randall B. Lauffer, Francesco S. Facchini, Leo R. Zacharski, S.V. Shah… – and MANY more.

    We could be well on our way towards “a world without MS” (and Parkinson’s disease, dementia…), if only…
    H. J. Mensing

    Reply
  13. Ernest S. Gantt

    Very nice blog and articles. I am realy very happy to visit your blog. Now I am found which I actually want. I check your blog everyday and try to learn something from your blog. Thank you and waiting for your new post…

    Reply

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