Could Drinking Coffee Reduce MS Risk?

Patient Expert

In recent years, I’ve become addicted to my daily mug of coffee. I love the smell, the warmth, and the extra boost of sugar (yes, I really do use real sugar in my coffee). Coffee not only helps to perk up my mind, it also has a mild effect on regular bowel movements. Basically, coffee is an important part of each day’s routine and without it, I’d feel like a zombie most days.

I wasn’t always a coffee drinker. I originally started drinking coffee in an attempt to combat MS fatigue. But recent research suggests that if I had been an avid coffee drinker prior to MS, my risk of developing MS may have been reduced by as much as 30 percent (Hedström et al, 2016). That’s a significant reduction!

Why coffee?

Coffee contains many biologically active compounds that provide a number of health benefits. Studies have shown that caffeine intake has been associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Caffeine may also protect against blood-brain barrier leakage according to research conducted in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease. Caffeine consumption may also reduce neuroinflammation and demyelination in animal models of MS.

MS risk and caffeine in humans

The relationship between caffeine consumption and MS risk has previously been investigated in several studies that produced inconsistent results. While one prospective cohort study (Nurses’ Health Study, NHS) found no apparent association (Massa J et al 2013), a case-control study involving 93 persons with MS and 186 controls observed an increased risk of MS among persons who consumed coffee before the age of 15 years (Tola MR et al, 1994). Another study showed a higher risk of MS in persons who drank increasing amounts of coffee (Pekmezovic T et al, 2006). Coffee consumption has also been associated with reduced disability progression in persons with relapsing forms of MS (D’hooghe MB et al, 2012).

What did the recent study show?

The latest study shows that compared with participants who reported no coffee consumption, the odds of developing MS were reduced among persons who reported high coffee consumption. This report is based on data collected from two population-representative case-control studies of environmental and genetic risk factors for MS conducted in Sweden (involving 1,620 MS cases and 2,788 controls) and the United States (involving 1,159 MS cases and 1,172 controls). Information was gathered retrospectively so recall bias may have affected study results.

Participants who reported drinking high quantities of coffee (more than 900-948 mL daily which equates to approximately 32 ounces) experienced a 30-31 percent reduced risk of developing MS, regardless of whether the amount of coffee consumed at the time of disease onset (beginning of MS symptoms) or 5-10 years prior to disease onset was considered. Adjustments made for confounding factors (such as demographic and socioeconomic variables, smoking habits, exposure to passive smoke, sun exposure, body mass index at age 20, alcohol consumption, history of infectious mononucleosis and HLA-DRB1*15 status) did not significantly change the results of the study.

Should you drink more coffee?

I love my coffee. But it’s hard to imagine drinking more than 32 ounces of the tasty stuff each day, year after year, just to avoid MS (assuming that you don’t already have MS like I do). For one thing, my dental hygienist would have some extra work to do to try to help me keep my teeth sparkly white.

The latest US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee suggests that there is strong evidence to show that drinking three to five cups of coffee a day, with up to 400 mg of caffeine, is not associated with increased long-term health risks among healthy individuals. The guidelines do warn, however, about taking care not to add too many calories from cream, milk, or added sugars.

As with every tidbit of news we read nowadays, it’s important to discuss any changes you plan to make regarding diet, exercise, or medications with your healthcare provider. And, know that even the researchers frequently suggest that more research is needed to confirm or expand upon study results.

See more helpful articles:

7 Best Food Choices for MS MS Diet and Nutritional Approaches to Treatment
7 Best Exercises for Living Better with Multiple Sclerosis

D’hooghe MB, Haentjens P, Nagels G, et al. Alcohol, coffee, fish, smoking and disease progression in multiple sclerosis. Eur J Neurol 2012;19:616–24.

Hedström AK,Mowry EM, Gianfrancesco MA, et al. High consumption of coffee is associated with decreased multiple sclerosis risk; results from two independent studies. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2016 Mar 3. pii: jnnp-2015-312176. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2015-312176. [Epub ahead of print]

Massa J, O’Reilly EJ, Munger KL, et al. Caffeine and alcohol intakes have no associations with risk of multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler 2013;19:53–8.

Pekmezovic T, Drulovic J, Milenkovic M, et al. Lifestyle factors and multiple sclerosis: a case-control study in Belgrade. Neuroepidemiology 2006;27:212–16.

Tola MR, Granieri E, Malagù S, et al. Dietary habits and multiple sclerosis. A retrospective study in Ferrara, Italy. Acta Neurol 1994;16:189–97.

USDA Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. February 2015.