Research into coffee drinking continues apace. It appears that recent research suggests that drinking plenty of coffee might be offering a protective effect against the ravages of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Multiple sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease which eventually leads to the loss of muscle function and ultimately death. It is extremely well described by the charity, the Multiple Sclerosis Trust. Quite simply, the insulating coating that surrounds the nerves, the myelin, is damaged or disappears. It affects various parts of the nervous system and is still not properly understood. That loss leads to the inability to control muscles, fatigue and extreme tiredness, loss of sight, inability to coordinate muscles etc. It affects people to differing degrees but is usually first seen in those between 20 and 40. It also affects women three times as much as men. Fortunately, the condition is rare so researchers advise us not to radically alter our lifestyles based on the latest findings, even in terms of drinking so much coffee as the research suggests.
Studies have been on going into the benefits of coffee reducing heart disease (Crippa et al., 2014) and ameliorating the effects of type-2 diabetes but further studies also support the idea of a benefit in combating various neurological diseases. The evidence for coffee and caffeine in particular comes on the back of animal studies which made similar claims for this beverage as staving off both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Earlier case-control studies had shown that caffeine drinking and developing the risk of MS was inconclusive (Tola et al., 1994; Pekmezovic et al., 2006; Jahromi et al., 2012).
The latest studies were conducted in Sweden (Karolinska Institute, Stockholm) and the USA (John Hopkins University, Maryland and University of Berkeley, California). They compared the data taken from 2,788 individuals with MS and 4,000 healthy people. A number of groups have been assessing the evidence which has finally been published (Hedström et al., 2016).
Both studies focused on coffee drinking, by how much and for how long and whether they had drunk it before any onset of the conditions. The Swedish study observed that the risk of MS was consistently higher amongst people drinking few cups of coffee daily in both studies even though other mitigating factors were considered. The US study found a 26-31 per cent lower risk in those drinking over 948ml of coffee daily for at least 5 years beforehand and at the start of any symptoms.
Perhaps one intriguing observation was that those who do not drink coffee are about one and a half times more likely to develop MS compared to those who drink a substantial volume daily. The Swedish researchers from the Karolinska Institute estimated that drinking up to six cups of coffee each day might reduce the risk the developing MS. Six cups amounts to amount 900ml or 30 fluid ounces which is equivalent to two Grande coffees from Starbucks. The level of reduction of risk could be up to 30 per cent with this high level of consumption.
Another revealing observation was that drinking large amounts of coffee up to 10 years before the symptoms started also provided protection. Although statistics can be reported for all sorts of factors, it generated some interesting if not controversial views on why coffee might be operating the way it did. Caffeine contents too need to be examined more closely. Six cups would not be considered moderate and it must also be stressed that coffee can be drunk in many ways !
The USA study showed that people who didn’t drink coffee increased their risk of developing MS by a similar factor but was compared to those drinking four or more cups of coffee per day in the year before their symptoms started to develop. The lead researcher Dr. Ellen Mowry based at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore pointed out the earlier statement that caffeine intake was associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. The authors in all cases stress that their findings are very much observations and that no firm conclusions can be made concerning a cause and effect.
Compounds In Coffee That Might Influence Multiple Sclerosis Development
Coffee contains a vast array of biologically active compounds, one of which caffeine is well known to be a stimulant and have a neuroprotective effect especially on the central nervous system. High caffeine consumption is associated with a reduction in a number of conditions such as heart disease (O’Keefe et al., 2013), stroke (Larsson, 2014) and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Caffeine is also known to minimise inflammation in certain situations including that believed to be associated with MS.
There always has to be some scepticism over claims being made, even in peer reviewed journals but there is an increasing body of evidence that is moving the space away from what were seen as negative aspects to caffeine or coffee generally. Given that over 2.5 million people suffer MS globally, any food which helps combat the condition is to be welcomed especially as this condition is so devastating for all concerned.
What was claimed however was:-
“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. In accordance with studies in animal models of MS, high consumption of coffee may decrease the risk of developing MS.”
One other comment was the desire to understand whether caffeine might reverse relapses and turn the tide on longer-term disability with the condition.
An editorial which explains some of the thinking further about coffee drinking was expressed by researchers at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada). Quoting:-
“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 intriguing findings indicate that the role of coffee in the development of MS clearly warrants further investigation, as do the mechanisms that underlie the relationship.”
Crippa, A., Discacciati, A., Larsson, S., et al (2014) Coffee consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: a dose-response meta-analysis. Am J Epidemiol 180 :763–75. doi:10.1093/aje/kwu194
Hedström, A.K., Mowry, E.M., Gianfrancesco, M.A., Shaoi, X., Schaefer, C.A., Shen, L., Olsson, T., Barcellos, L.F., Alfredsson, L. (2016) High consumption of coffee is associated with decreased multiple sclerosis risk; results from two independent studies. J. Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatry doi:10.1136/jnnp-2015-312176
Jahromi, S.R., Toghae, M., Jahromi, M.J., et al. (2012) Dietary pattern and risk of multiple sclerosis. Iran J. Neurol. 11:47–53.
Larsson, S.C. (2014) Coffee, tea, and cocoa and risk of stroke. Stroke 45:309–14. doi:10.1161/STROKEAHA.113.003131
O’Keefe, J.H., Bhatti, S.K., Patil, H.R., et al. (2013) Effects of habitual coffee consumption on cardiometabolic disease, cardiovascular health, and all-cause mortality. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 62:1043–51. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2013.06.035
Pekmezovic, T., Drulovic, J., Milenkovic, M., et al. (2006) Lifestyle factors and multiple sclerosis: a case-control study in Belgrade. Neuroepidemiology 27:212–16. doi:10.1159/000096853
Tola, M.R., Granieri, E., Malagù, S., et al. (1994) Dietary habits and multiple sclerosis. A retrospective study in Ferrara, Italy. Acta Neurol. 16:189–97.