Coffee intake has been linked to a reduced risk of several diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. New research finds drinking coffee also may protect against the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), a disabling neurological disease that affects about 2.5 million people world-wide.
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Researchers at Kaiser Permanente Northern California studied more than 2,000 people, half of whom were diagnosed with MS. They found people who did not drink coffee had about a 1.5 times increased risk of developing MS.
A Swedish study involving more than 4,000 people showed similar results. Researchers evaluated the study’s participants based on their coffee consumption five to 10 years before their MS diagnosis.
“Those who consumed four to six cups of coffee a day had a reduced risk in developing MS later in life,” says neurologist Robert Fox, MD.
Caffeine and brain health
Research so far on the link between caffeine consumption and MS has been inconclusive. Caffeine has been associated with a reduced risk for other neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Caffeine has potentially neuroprotective properties,” Dr. Fox says. “There’s a lot more to coffee than caffeine and I suspect there’s something about coffee that helps neurologic and immune function.”
The study doesn’t explain whether there’s a difference between coffee or another caffeine source. More research needs to be done to answer that question, Dr. Fox says.
However, there’s a growing recognition for coffee’s health benefits. Aside from its power to protect the brain, research also has shown positive impact on the heart.
“In the past many years, coffee has been seen as a potential vice,” Dr. Fox says.“That seems to be shifting significantly now.”
For example, the Federal Dietary Guidelines Committee last week issued a strong statement supporting the consumption of coffee because of its health benefits.
One thing to keep in mind is that the study found quite high amounts of coffee were protective, which isn’t ideal for some people. It could cause you to be jittery, Dr. Fox says.
So if you love a cup of coffee in the morning and a few over the course of the day, don’t feel guilty. Drink up!