Could Coffee and Caffeine Treat Fatigue in Patients With MS?

Samantha DiGrande

Multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system, is estimated to affect approximately 2.5 million individuals worldwide. It can lead to inflammation and demyelination, causing lesions in the white and gray matter of the brain. Often overlooked, however, are nonphysical presenting symptoms of MS, such as fatigue.

Researchers hypothesized that because coffee and caffeine showed a beneficial effect on daytime tiredness in Parkinson disease, a similar positive effect might be assumed in MS. Investigators compiled a systematic review focused on summarizing the possible effects of coffee and caffeine in MS, though they noted, importantly, that coffee consumption should not be equated with caffeine intake due to the many ingredients in a cup of coffee other than solely caffeine.

Prior research has shown that 14% of diagnosed patients with MS consider fatigue their “worst” problem, and 55% as “one of their worst problems.” Unfortunately, to date, treatment options for fatigue are limited. Fatigue was defined by the study investigators as “reversible, motor, and cognitive impairment with reduced motivation and desire to rest, either appearing spontaneously or brought on by mental or physical activity…in MS, fatigue can be daily, has usually been present for years, and has greater severity than any premorbid fatigue.”

While the impact of coffee on chronic and autoimmune diseases has been studied previously, the “neuroprotective effect” has not yet been fully understood. In total, researchers included 6 studies regarding MS and coffee or caffeine, though due to the limited number of studies available, the findings were not considered to be statistically significant, however some conclusions can still be drawn.

The existing epidemiological studies included in the review have led researchers to find that coffee, and especially caffeine, could have a preventative role in the development of several neurodegenerative diseases. Furthermore, recent data in animal models suggest that caffeine may also have therapeutic effects on patients who have already been diagnosed with certain disease states.

However, study authors noted that a beneficial effect of coffee could only be observed in the groups with the highest amount of caffeine intake, around 5 cups per day. Intaking caffeine at such a dose, while potentially beneficial for neurodegenerative diseases, can also lead to a mild physical dependence.

In terms of future studies, the authors recommend further investigating the effects that coffee and caffeine may have in possibly reducing the severity of a certain disease state and of various neurological symptoms to determine a potential therapeutic approach.

Herden L, Weissert R. The impact of coffee and caffeine on multiple sclerosis compared to other neurodegenerative diseases. [published online December 21, 2018]. Front Nutr. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2018.00133
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