A Decaf Report Prompts Arthritis Jitters
Tuesday, November 27, 2001; Page HE02
You thought skipping the buzz was playing it safe. Now a study links decaf coffee with rheumatoid arthritis. The research, presented last week at the American College of Rheumatology's annual meeting, finds that older women who down four cups or more daily of decaf are more than twice as likely as non-decaf drinkers to develop the crippling disease.
The Source An 11-year study of 31,336 Iowa women, 55 to 69 years old. All were free of rheumatoid arthritis in 1986 when the study began.
The Theory "We speculate [the increased risk] might be attributable to the preparation and processing of decaffeinated coffee," says Ted Mikuls, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and the study's lead author.
What to Make of It This isn't the first time researchers have linked coffee to rheumatoid arthritis, which affects 2.1 million Americans -- most of them women -- according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. A team of Finnish researchers recently reported a link among coffee consumption, blood markers for rheumatoid arthritis and subsequent diagnosis of the disease. But that study was not as scientifically rigorous as the Iowa project and didn't distinguish between regular coffee and decaf.
One Strategy Reach for a teabag. Study participants who drank three or more cups of tea daily were less than half as likely as decaf drinkers to develop arthritis. Mikuls says tea's anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants such as polyphenols may be responsible. Herbal tea wasn't included in the study, but since it doesn't go through decaffeination, the guess is that it may not raise risk.
Don't overdo regular coffee, however, just because it got a pass in this study. Another recent study found that drinking 2 1/2 cups a day was linked to reduced spinal bone density in post-menopausal women. No such link was found in this study for decaf coffee.
-- Sally Squires
© 2001 The Washington Post Company