Take a Latte and Call Me in the Morning?

The past few months have brought lots of good news for coffee drinkers. Once upon a time, doctors warned that caffeine was poison and warned us all to go light on the lattes. Nowadays, every month seems to bring new good news about caffeine, drinking coffee and our health. The latest news out of Finland suggests that drinking coffee could halt the development of multiple sclerosis. Even better news for those of us who would mainline coffee if we could, the beneficial effects were greatest at the caffeine equivalent of six to eight six ounce cups of coffee a day. That’s two Dunkin Great Ones or Starbucks Grandes.

The findings were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Professor Linda Thompson of Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. The study was done in collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Mills and Dr. Margaret Bynoe of Cornell University working in collaboration with colleagues at Finland’s University of Turku. While the study was specific to multiple sclerosis, the researchers hope that the findings may be relevant for other auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Auto-immune diseases, in which the body’s immune system attacks the body itself, are among the most difficult and puzzling for researchers to address.

In the study, researchers injected specially-bred mice with a vaccine that normally provokes an MS-like reaction in which the immune system damages the nerves. When the mice were fed a diet that included the equivalent of six to eight cups of coffee a day, the condition did not develop. Professor Thompson said that the finding could lead to new ways to prevent and treat MS.

How It Works

The researchers discovered that the caffeine acts on one of the building blocks in DNA, adenosine, preventing certain T cells from reaching the central nervous system. Those cells are keys that unlock a series of events that eventually lead to the condition mouse equivalent of multiple sclerosis. That condition, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE for short) is most similar to the human multiple sclerosis.

Professor Thompson warns that “A mouse is not a human being, so we can’t be sure caffeine will have the same effect on people prone to develop MS without much more testing.” Still, the results are encouraging to those struggling with the disease or knowing that they have a genetic predisposition to it. MS is hereditary, and having a parent or sibling with the condition greatly increases the risk of developing the condition. Its symptoms include muscle weakness, numbness, loss of muscle coordination and problems with speech, vision and bladder control. It affects about 2.5 million people worldwide.

The next step, says Thompson, is a retrospective study of people with MS to track their intake of caffeine and extrapolate the effects of caffeine on the disease. If that study pointed to a possible correlation between caffeine intake and reduced MS symptoms, she added, that would suggest further studies in humans.

The Head of Research and Information at the MS Society is less encouraging. “There have been numerous discoveries that have prevented EAE in mice,” he said. “Translating them into potentially beneficial therapies for humans remains a challenge. Based on the results of this study, we wouldn’t advise people to change their caffeine intake.”

Which means, we guess, that it really can’t hurt to drink those two Great Ones, either – and it just may protect you from one more danger of the big bad world.