"Caffeine appears to help ward off multiple sclerosis, at least in a preliminary animal study. Mice given caffeine were 75 percent less likely to develop the animal model of MS than those not given it, said study senior author Dr. Margaret Bynoe, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, in Ithaca, N.Y.
"The 25 percent who got it got mild cases," she said, although she noted the research is preliminary and the trials were in mice that had the animal model of MS.
Why does caffeine help?
Caffeine is known to block a compound called adenosine. "Inhibiting adenosine prevents the infiltration of lymphocytes [a type of white blood cell involved in immune system response] into the central nervous system," Bynoe explained. "If the lymphocytes cannot get in, you cannot get the inflammation characteristic of MS. The inflammatory response is what causes the damage to the myelin covering the nerve cells."
Bynoe believes her team is the first to demonstrate this mechanism.
In the animals given caffeine, the equivalent of 6 to 8 cups of coffee a day for humans, "there was a reduction in the inflammation, the pathology, a reduction in the brain pathology," Bynoe said.
Adenosine plays a crucial role in many body processes, including energy transfer, the promotion of sleep and the suppression of arousal. On the cellular level, caffeine can bind to the same receptors as adenosine, preventing the adenosine from attaching to cells in the central nervous system.
The new finding is "certainly deserving of further study," said Dr. John Richert, executive vice president of research and clinical programs for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society."