of Rhematoid Arthritis
(HealthScoutNews) -- Attention,
female coffee lovers.
Before you take another swig of what you think is guilt-free
decaf, there's something you should know: New research shows this
otherwise mild-mannered beverage may increase your risk of rheumatoid
arthritis (RA), a painful auto-immune disorder that attacks the
According to a recent presentation at the annual meeting of the
American College of Rheumatology, doctors from the University
of Alabama at Birmingham revealed that women who drink at least
four cups of decaffeinated coffee a day are more than twice as
likely to develop RA. Drinking regular coffee had no relationship
to the disease.
"Right now, there appears to be only an association between
RA and decaffeinated coffee. But the evidence is pretty convincing
thus far that there could be a real link between the two,"
says lead author Dr. Ted Mikuls, an assistant professor at the
University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Although past studies have linked coffee and RA, this is the
first study to separate the effects of caffeinated coffee from
"Women who drank regular coffee did not have the increased
risk of RA -- so it seems as if there is something about the decaffeinated
coffee that is increasing the risks," says Mikuls.
That "something" is probably the chemicals used in
the decaffeinating process, according to Dr. Eric Braverman, an
integrated physician and RA expert.
"For many years, making decaffeinated coffee involved the
use of some potent chemical solvents, some which may still be
in use today," Braverman explains.
Over time, he says, these chemical residues build in the body,
taxing the immune system. Eventually, he adds, that continual
assault may be what leads to a variety of autoimmune diseases,
Because the study began in the 1980s -- and doctors don't know
how long before that the women had been drinking decaffeinated
coffee -- Mikuls concedes it is entirely possible that chemical
residues from the decaffeinated process could indeed have played
"We just don't know what was behind the finding; all we
can say right now is there appears to be an association between
the amount of decaffeinated coffee the women in this study drank,
and an increase in RA," says Mikuls.
In addition to this finding, Mikuls' group also looked at tea
consumption and the risk of RA, and herein lies perhaps an even
more intriguing finding.
Although Mikuls' study determined that tea drinking reduced the
risk of RA in women, another study presented at the same conference
found the opposite was true, at least in black women.
In that study, a group of Boston researchers analyzed data on
64,000 black women and found that tea, as well as decaffeinated
coffee shared an equal link to RA. Mikuls says he doesn't understand
the reason for the conflicting finding about tea.
"We discussed this at the conference, and we really can't
find a reason except to say that neither study broke down the
tea by type -- herbal, regular or decaffeinated -- which could
have accounted for the difference, and second, that there may
be some individual lifestyle or health factors that may have played
a role in the finding. But right now, we just don't know,"
In the University of Alabama study, Mikuls pulled data on 32,000
women between the ages of 55 and 69 from the Iowa Women's Health
Study. A major research project started in 1986, women in the
Iowa study were asked to report a variety of health and lifestyle
factors, including their tea and coffee consumption.
Through 1997, the researchers pinpointed how many women in the
study were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
After analyzing the data, Mikuls and his group reported that,
when compared to those who did not use decaffeinated coffee, women
who drank at least four cups a day were more than twice as likely
to develop RA.
Tthe study also found that regular coffee had no impact on incidence
of rheumatoid arthritis, and that tea actually had a protective
effect: Mikuls reports that women who drank more than three cups
of tea a day had a 60 percent reduction in their risk of RA.
"Clearly, a more detailed study is needed on both decaffeinated
coffee and tea before any solid conclusions can be drawn,"
What To Do
Based on the data presented so far, Mikuls believes there is
no cause for alarm and no need to limit the use of decaffeinated
"Right now, there is only an association between RA and
decaffeinated coffee, and there is a long way to go before it
becomes a positive link," he says.
Braverman, however, disagrees, saying decaf is not a good beverage
for anyone, regardless of any links to RA.
"Decaffeinated coffee should only be used as a way to give
up caffeinated coffee; it should never be the beverage of choice
on its own as long as there is a question concerning the chemicals
used in the process," says Braverman.
Although most coffee makers today use a safer, Swiss water process
to decaffeinate coffee and not the chemical solvents used in the
past, Braverman still believes the risk is not worth taking, particularly
if you aren't 100 percent sure of how your coffee is made.
To learn more about how coffee is decaffeinated, click
To learn more about rheumatoid arthritis, visit the
Rheumatoid Arthritis Information Network.
You can also learn more about RA from the Arthritis Foundation
information page, found
Curious about how decaf is made? Check out this fact sheet from
Reference Source 101