The anti-inflammatory neuroprotective properties of caffeine may reduce the risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis (MS), according to a new study. Researchers from Sweden and USA found that drinking 6 cups of coffee a day can cut the risk of MS by 31%.
Multiple Sclerosis affects the brain and/or spinal cord, causing a variety of symptoms, including vision problems, arm or leg movement, balance or sensation. This lifelong condition can cause serious disability. An estimated 100,000 people in the UK are affected by this condition.
Worldwide, an estimated 2,500,000 people have multiple sclerosis. The prevalence of the condition is more in women. For every man, there are around two to three women affected by MS. [Read more: Drink green tea for a healthy heart]
Coffee contains over 1,000 biologically active compounds, including caffeine, which is known to stimulate the central nervous system. Neuroprotective properties of caffeine can inhibit the production of chemicals responsible for inflammatory response.
Past studies have revealed that there is a connection between high consumption of coffee and lower rates of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Animal studies have shown that caffeine helps to guard against leakage in the blood-brain barrier.
Dr. Anna Hedstrom, of the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues conducted separate studies in two representative groups of adults, in Sweden and the US. [Read more Drinking beet juice before workout boosts brain power in older adults]
In the Swedish study, the team compared 1,620 participants with MS with 2,788 healthy adults, matched for age and sex.
In the American study, the researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, and the University of California-Berkeley, California, examined 1,159 adults with MS and 1,172 healthy adults.
For the participants who developed the disease, researchers estimated their coffee consumption during and before the onset of MS symptoms, and compared the data with the healthy group of adults.
The team discovered that in both studies, the risk of developing MS was much greater among adults who consumed fewer cups of coffee every day. The findings remained even after adjusting for confounding factors such as smoking during teenage years. [Read more Yoga may improve arthritis symptoms, new study says]
In the study conducted in Sweden, coffee drinking was associated with a lower risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis both at the start of symptoms and 5-10 years beforehand. Those who drank over six cups (900 ml+) of coffee daily had a 28 to 30% lower risk.
The American study showed a 26-31 percent reduction in MS risk among those who consumed above 948 ml daily at least 5 years beforehand and at the onset of symptoms, compared with those who never drank coffee. The researchers stressed that the study was only observational, but they did wrote:
“Lower odds of MS with increasing consumption of coffee were observed, regardless of whether coffee consumption at disease onset or five or 10 years prior to disease onset was considered."
However, the team note that the effects could also be due to another chemical component of coffee rather than caffeine. They call for further research. [Read more Drink green tea for a healthy heart, scientists suggest]
"Although it remains to be shown whether drinking coffee can prevent the development of MS, the results of these thorough analyses add to the growing evidence for the beneficial health effects of coffee. [...] The role of coffee in the development of MS clearly warrants further investigation, as do the mechanisms that underlie the relationship,” the authors conclude.
The study was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
Salahuddin Ahmed is a freelance medical writer and blogger, who's been writing about health and medicine for more than a decade. A former New York transplant, he now lives in his native Dhaka. He received a Bachelor's degree from the University of Louisiana and a diploma on eTechnology from NIIT, Dhaka. He bleeds coffee - a disorder he got from living in America for twenty years. Salahuddin prefers his coffee Arabica, and women Bengalica.