A new study says that drinking a strong cup of coffee may help prevent multiple sclerosis.
Scientists in Oklahoma found that mice which had been immunized to develop an MS-like condition appeared to be protected from the disease by drinking the equivalent of six to eight cups of coffee a day.
"This is an exciting and unexpected finding, and I think it could be important for the study of MS and other diseases," said Linda Thompson, from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation who worked in collaboration with Cornell University and Finland's University of Turku.
Caffeine prevented adenosine, one of the four building blocks in DNA, from mixing with its receptor in mice.
Adenosine is common molecule in humans and plays a large role in helping to control the biochemical processes for sleep and suppressing arousal.
When the molecule is blocked from binding with its receptor, the body's infection-fighting white cells cannot reach the central nervous system and trigger the reactions which lead to experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, or EAE, the animal form of MS.
The findings could have important implications for other auto-immune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, in which the body's own defense systems turn against itself.
But Thompson, co-author of the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, warned there was a lot more work to be done in fighting multiple sclerosis, a debilitating and progressive disease in humans.
"A mouse is not a human being, so we can't be sure caffeine will have the same effect on people prone to develop MS without much more testing," she said.
Further retrospective studies to track the caffeine intake of patients with MS and its effects might be the next major step.
"If you found a correlation between caffeine intake and reduced MS symptoms, that would point to further studies in humans," Thompson said.
Some 2.5 million people worldwide are thought to suffer from MS, a disorder of the central nervous system which leads to loss of muscle coordination.