Can Caffeine Help With Multiple Sclerosis?

Caffeine may be beneficial for people with multiple sclerosis (MS). It acts as a stimulant and has neuroprotective properties, which may help reduce brain fog, decrease inflammation, reduce disability, and increase energy levels. Studies show caffeine to be a safe and helpful choice for people with MS.

Key takeaways:
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    Caffeine has neuroprotective qualities and is safe for people with MS.
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    Caffeine may be helpful in reducing MS symptoms.
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    Caffeine may especially improve fatigue, which affects 70% of people with MS.
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    Studies show that coffee may have therapeutic use for people with MS.

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that results in chronic inflammation. The cause of MS is currently unknown, but it is thought to be autoimmune. With MS, the immune system attacks the CNS, specifically the myelin sheath that surrounds the nerves. This causes lesions and inflammation, which leads to symptoms such as:

  • Chronic pain.
  • Fatigue.
  • Balance and coordination issues.
  • Tremors, numbness, burning, or tingling sensations.
  • Difficulty thinking clearly.

Symptoms usually come and go over the years and are dependent on where the nerve damage has occurred. Multiple sclerosis affects 2.5 million people worldwide and is more common in women. There is no cure for MS, but medication can delay the progression of the disease and lessen the severity and frequency of relapses.

There are over a dozen disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) currently authorized for people with MS, but most patients still live with chronic symptoms. Fatigue is a very common symptom for people with MS, with nearly two-thirds of people reporting it. More therapies are needed. Scientists have been studying the effect caffeine has on MS-related fatigue and other symptoms. The results are promising.

Are caffeine and MS connected?

Caffeine is a substance found naturally in more than sixty different plants, including coffee beans, tea leaves, and cacao pods (chocolate). It is also a central nervous system stimulant that can make you feel more alert and energetic. In addition, caffeine causes increased urination, higher levels of stomach acid, and higher blood pressure. Coffee has over 1,000 bioactive compounds but caffeine is one of the major components. Studies show that caffeine acts as an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. Since MS is an inflammatory condition, caffeine might be helpful.

Caffeine is absorbed by the small intestine within 45 minutes and can stay in your bloodstream for up to 7 hours. It is widely used, mostly in the form of coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks. Caffeine has many benefits. It is considered to be neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory, which may lower the risk of cognitive decline and help with fatigue. Unlike most molecules, caffeine can cross the blood-brain barrier. This allows caffeine to enter the brain and affect neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain). This is one of the reasons it is being studied in patients with MS.

No drug has ever been able to reduce inflammation at the source, so some researchers have turned to bioactive compounds found in nature to see if they can be of use. Studies on caffeine and MS are promising and many show that regular caffeine use in the form of coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of MS and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Supporting research

Many studies have shown that caffeinated coffee has neuroprotective properties and lowers the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body called cytokines. Researchers are not positive that the effects seen are the result of caffeine only, as coffee contains many other antioxidants.

Studies show that coffee drinkers may be less likely to develop MS than people who don’t drink coffee. One study found that people who drank three cups of coffee a day were 30% less likely to develop MS than people who didn’t drink coffee. The researchers pointed to the caffeine in coffee that was most likely responsible for the difference. The lowered risk of MS was found for people who began drinking coffee with caffeine at diagnosis and also for people who had been drinking it for years.

Another study looked at the effect coffee had on people with MS. This study found that drinking caffeinated coffee resulted in positive benefits in their daily routines. The positive benefits were higher in patients with lower disability scores. The participants experienced the following benefits from using caffeine:

  • Higher levels of concentration when working.
  • Longer attention span.
  • A more satisfying daily routine with increased structure.

Researchers noted that patients with milder symptoms may be able to, “Benefit from the effects of coffee consumption due to their still preserved cognitive reserves.” The study also demonstrated no serious side effects or sleep disturbance in participants who drank caffeinated beverages. Experts aren’t sure exactly how caffeine seems to have a protective effect and no negative link has been found between caffeine and MS.

Scientists have not found the mechanism by which caffeine improves fatigue in patients with MS, but they suggest that it may be useful as a therapeutic approach if other treatments for fatigue have failed. Research on caffeine and MS is ongoing.

Possible side effects of caffeine

Drinking caffeinated beverages may be a good addition to your lifestyle if you have MS, but keep in mind that not everyone can tolerate caffeine well. Some people experience the following symptoms after drinking high levels of caffeine:

  • Insomnia;
  • Restlessness;
  • Dizziness;
  • Headaches;
  • Dehydration;
  • Anxiety;
  • Increased heart rate;
  • Dependence.

MS symptoms and caffeine

The studies have varied results but overall, they tend to show a positive benefit for people with MS. Caffeine intake may reduce inflammatory chemicals in the body, which could lead to less severe symptoms. Caffeine intake may have the following effects on MS symptoms:

  • Fatigue. Caffeine is often used to treat this very common symptom of MS. Experts recommend that if you’re going to drink caffeinated beverages, do it earlier in the day because caffeine can interfere with your sleep;
  • Brain fog. Caffeine is widely known to increase mental alertness. It may help people with MS to feel more awake and focused;
  • Constipation. This is a common symptom for people with MS. Coffee, a good source of caffeine, is known to activate the bowel. This may be helpful in reducing the occurrence of constipation;
  • Other symptoms. Some people with MS have reported an increase in nausea and heat intolerance after the effects of caffeine have worn off.

Additional studies are needed, but caffeine seems to be a safe choice for people with MS and may even provide some benefits. It may be especially helpful with fatigue. Caffeine is associated with few harmful effects and only in higher doses. If you have MS, speak with your healthcare provider if you choose to include caffeine as part of your diet.

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