The Truth About Caffeine and Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, or are at risk of getting it, you may have wondered whether your morning cup (or two or three) of coffee has any impact on the disease. Coffee has gotten such good press lately, with java being touted as a boon to mental health, cognitive performance and athletic endurance, to name a few. But is your morning run to the local coffee shop doing you more harm than good?

There's no clear-cut answer; studies have produced different results over the years. For example, a University of Alabama at Birmingham study in 2002 examined data collected from more than 31,000 women as part of the Iowa Women's Health Study, which began in 1986. The researchers looked at records up through 1997 and found 158 new cases of rheumatoid arthritis during that time. After adjusting for age, drinking habits, smoking history, age at menopause, marital status and use of hormone-replacement therapy, the researchers concluded that those women who drank four or more cups of decaf coffee each day were at increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Regular coffee appeared to have no effect on the appearance of the disease. But later studies disputed the finding, claiming there was no link between coffee and rheumatoid arthritis at all.

While your java habit probably won't cause you to develop rheumatoid arthritis, if you already suffer from it, will your daily brew make things worse? Research suggests that, again, it probably won't. Although one study indicated that coffee drinkers taking methotrexate-the drug of choice for treating rheumatoid arthritis-had a slightly weakened response to the medication, another study found that morning stiffness and joint pain was no worse among prodigious caffeine consumers than those who consumed less caffeine.

If you're concerned about your coffee habit, or if you feel that coffee of any kind makes your rheumatoid arthritis worse, cut back. Substitute decaf tea for one of your daily cups of coffee, or try hot cider or soup if you feel the need to drink something warm.


Arthritis Foundation