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25 October 2019

Does caffeine affect MS?

Research has shown coffee to have an anti-inflammatory effect, and to reduce the likelihood of developing MS, but it is unclear why this is. The neuroprotective properties of caffeine mean it can suppress inflammation and also assist with symptoms such as fatigue (when used correctly), constipation and cognitive fog. High doses can worsen certain symptoms, and there is mixed advice around the benefits – but a moderate amount of coffee should not be detrimental to PwMS.

Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed stimulants of the nervous system.  It can be easily forgotten that alcohol and caffeine are in fact drugs, as they are so widely used.  Caffeine was first used as a medical treatment in the early 19th century. 

Most people will have felt the effects of a strong cup of coffee on your body, but it can be unclear whether caffeine is good or bad for our health.

Is coffee bad for multiple sclerosis?

Research has found that people drinking more than 900 ml of coffee each day, roughly three mugs, are up to 30% less likely to develop multiple sclerosis than people who drink no coffee1. It is unclear why this is, or whether coffee has a positive effect on people who have MS. 

A study of 126 patients in 2017 found that coffee consumption does not seem to have a role in the progression of disability in MS patients2

Coffee has an anti-inflammatory effect and is in fact one of the biggest sources of antioxidants in people who have a standard western diet. 

There are no specific restrictions about caffeine included in the OMS Program. However, you should follow standard health advice about consumption of caffeine — in 2015 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suggested a maximum 400 mg per day and single doses of 200mg. This is roughly four cups of coffee per day, but if you find that caffeine gives you adverse effects, then stay away.

Caffeine and MS symptoms

Caffeine has neuroprotective properties3, and has been shown to suppress the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, chemical signals that turn on inflammation within the immune system.  However, further detailed studies are needed.

  • Fatigue 


Caffeine is a widely used treatment for fatigue, one of the most common MS symptoms. There are ongoing studies into coffee and fatigue at the moment, but there is certainly no evidence of harm in MS, and it is very likely that many people would find some benefit. Caffeine can make it harder to get to sleep, so it is advisable to avoid drinking coffee in the evenings. 

Some people find that coffee helps to activate the bowel, which may be beneficial when suffering from constipation, but caffeine can also irritate your bladder and is a diuretic (makes more urine) so if you have bladder symptoms, these can be exacerbated by caffeine.  Make sure you drink plenty of water to avoid getting urinary tract infections.

Caffeine may help with mental alertness as it does for the general population. 

  • Other symptoms 


Some people find that some symptoms such as heat intolerance, nausea and even fatigue worsen after the caffeine hit has worn off. 

High doses of caffeine can bring their own symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, raised blood pressure, raised heart rate and restlessness.

Mixed advice around caffeine and MS

Previous research has been mixed with respect to MS and caffeine, but a literature review in 2018 found indications that coffee and caffeine intake must not be considered as a health risk4. Additional clinical studies are needed to fully understand how far coffee and caffeine intake should be considered as a potential therapeutic approach for MS and other conditions.

In conclusion, it appears that drinking a moderate amount of caffeine shouldn’t have any ill-effect on people with MS. However it is up to you whether you choose to consume caffeine depending on whether you enjoy it and how it affects you.  So you can keep enjoying your almond milk latte or morning espresso.