Could Caffeine Delay Multiple Sclerosis?

Could consuming caffeine reduce your chances of developing multiple sclerosis? New research suggests it's possible.

Ellen Mowry, MD, MCR, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, looked at the results of two large studies, one on Sweden, and one in the U.S. Both studies examined the consumption of coffee—a major source of caffeine—among thousands of subjects, including both MS patients and unaffected people.

In both studies, drinking coffee was linked to a lower risk of MS: in the Swedish study, non-coffee drinkers had about 1.5 times the risk for getting MS as those who guzzled at least six cups per day; in the U.S. study, individuals who didn’t drink coffee were 1.5 times as likely to get MS as those who sipped at least four cups of coffee daily in the year before they started to display MS symptoms. Coffee consumption habits among both patients and healthy participants were reviewed for several years prior to the onset of MS symptoms in patients.

Mowry’s research was presented in April, 2015 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, of which she is a member.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the brain and spinal cord that tends to affect young adults, starting with those in their mid 20s, according to Sylvia Klineova, MD, of the Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for MS and an assistant professor of neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "MS is the biggest reason for disability in young people except disabilities caused by trauma, such as a car accident," she says.

Multiple sclerosis is thought to affect more than 2.3 million individuals around the world, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The typical American has about a 1 in 750 chance of developing MS, though this risk increases slightly among first degree relatives (children and siblings). Between two and three times more common in women than in men, MS appears to be more common among Caucasians than among Asians, African-Americans, and Hispanic/Latinos.

How Much Coffee Should You be Drinking?

What does this research mean for you? Don’t rush out to the store to buy as many caffeine-containing beverages as you can fit in your shopping cart.

"There may be some protective effect of caffeine in the later development of multiple sclerosis," says Klineova. "“But overall, the results have not been consistent. I don’t think we can make any recommendations to people who are wondering whether coffee consumption could protect them from MS. There is just not enough evidence to tell people to drink more coffee."

Still, the study presents an interesting idea for individuals who don’t yet have MS, notes Klineova. It's an appealing notion, for one thing, since many people interested in maintaining their health are already drinking coffee, and simply drinking more could be an easy fix. "It’s more related to lifestyle rather than having to take additional medication," Klineova says.

But if you don’t already drink coffee, this research isn’t conclusive enough to make you start. In fact, Klineova says, she would not advise her patients to alter their coffee-drinking habits until there is more firm evidence that caffeine could reduce the chances of MS. Although it has many health benefits, caffeine "can have an adverse effect on cardiac [heart] health and it can also be hard on the stomach," she says.

Yet caffeine in moderate amounts has been associated with a lower risk of several cancers, and it may even be protective against developing type 2 diabetes. One study found that caffeine was linked with a lower incidence of cancer, with results that suggested that consuming more coffee offered more protection against developing any form of the disease.

Sylvia Klineova, MD, reviewed this article.


Klineova, Sylvia, MD. Phone interview on October 22, 2015.

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"Who Gets MS? (Epidemiology)" National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Accessed November 4, 2015.

Carroll, Aaron. "More Consensus on Coffee’s Benefits Than You Might Think." The New York Times. May 11, 2015.

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