Multiple cups of coffee may reduce MS risk, study finds

Consuming multiple cups of coffee a day may reduce an individual’s risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS), found researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“Coffee/caffeine intake seems to be protective against Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, leading to a question of whether it might also be important for MS, another central nervous system disorder,” study author Dr. Ellen Mowry, an assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, told via email. The research is being presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 67th annual meeting in Washington, DC Thursday.

According to The National MS Society, MS is a disease of the nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body. The symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary among patients, but many suffer from fatigue, numbness or tingling, vision, bowel, and bladder problems, walking difficulties and pain. The organization estimates that MS affects over 2.3 million people worldwide.

Researchers compared data from two studies, one Swedish study of 1,629 people with MS and 2,807 healthy people, and a U.S. study of 1,159 people with MS and 1,172 healthy people. The studies characterized coffee consumption among persons with MS years before MS symptoms began and compared it to coffee consumption of people who did not have MS at similar time periods.

The studies found that individuals who did not drink coffee were one and a half times more likely to develop the disease than individuals who consumed four cups of coffee per day in the United States and six cups of coffee per day in Sweden. The U.S. study focused specifically on caffeinated beverages while the Swedish research asked about coffee intake.

Mowry noted that more research is needed to definitely confirm that coffee is truly protective, as the results could be false associations— perhaps people who drink more coffee have behavioral differences such as eating more healthy foods that explain the cause, she said.

“That being said, if the results are true, there are many compounds in coffee, so it's not clear which compound might be the cause. Caffeine is an attractive candidate and can impact the immune system, so perhaps it helps to combat the autoimmune process in some way,” she said.

However, for people who already have MS, the study evidence does not suggest consuming coffee, researchers added.

“Caffeine can irritate the bladder, increasing problems with urination that some people with MS already experience,” Mowry said.

As for whether individuals should drink more coffee as a preventative measure against MS, researchers advise against it.

“The results don't provide evidence that people should increase their consumption of coffee,” Mowry said. “More research is needed in this regard."