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Drinking coffee may reduce the risk of developing multiple sclerosis

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Researchers have reported that people drinking more than 900 ml of coffee each day, roughly equivalent to three average-size mugs, are up to 30% less likely to develop multiple sclerosis than people who drink no coffee.

Two groups of researchers, one based in Sweden the other in the United States, carried out similar studies and reached similar conclusions.

The Swedish study involved 1,620 adults with MS and a comparison group of 2,788 people without MS, the US study 1,159 people with MS and 1,172 healthy people. In both studies, people were asked about their coffee consumption and how long they had been drinking coffee. The researchers then estimated coffee intake at and before the start of MS symptoms in those who developed the disease, and compared this with the healthy groups.

The researchers looked at whether there were other differences in the backgrounds or habits of non-coffee drinkers compared to coffee-drinkers which could influence results.  They took into account a range factors including smoking, exposure to sunlight, educational level, socioeconomic class etc.

The results showed that the risk of MS was approximately 30% lower among people who drank 900 ml of coffee every day in both studies, even after taking into account other factors that might influence the results.

The researchers recognise the limitations of this kind of study which depends on how accurately people remember what they did in the past. They also point out that no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. The results are supported by studies which suggest that caffeine may have a protective effect in animal models of MS and studies which show similar protective effects of coffee consumption in other neurological conditions. However, it is not known if it is caffeine or some other component of coffee which is producing the observed effect. They conclude that the role of coffee in the development of MS clearly warrants further investigation, as do the mechanisms that underlie the relationship.

More references

  • Hedstrom AK, et al. High consumption of coffee is associated with decreased multiple sclerosis risk; results from two independent studies. Journal of Neurology, Neuropsychiatry and Psychology 2016 Mar 3. [Epub ahead of print] Full article

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