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The Great Coffee Debate

The Great Coffee Debate

“I Don’t Drink Coffee. Should I Start?” is the headline of an article I just read in The New York Times’ “Health” section, written by a non-coffee drinker who is wondering if he should start guzzling cups of delicious caffeine like the rest of us. And so follows the debate: Is coffee good or bad for you? I don’t know. Nobody seems to really know for sure. I feel like there’s always some study coming out in the news about how coffee is either good OR bad, depending on the week or day. I may be exaggerating a bit on the frequency of this, but I do feel like the public is often given contradictory information regarding the health benefits and risks of this mass-consumed beverage. Personally, I feel my own health is invested in the debate because 1.) I’m a daily coffee drinker, and 2.) I have a suspicion that coffee may make my RA worse.

I’m drinking my first cup of coffee (with a little skim milk and a teaspoon of sugar, I admit) of the morning as I write this article, actually. Also as I write, I’m still currently taking prednisone daily, which does not make me happy. It’s a low dose, 7 mg, as I keep attempting to taper all the way down and off the drug from being on 30 mg last July. It’s been a slow, complicated process, with many setbacks.

During these months since my major flare-up last summer, I have been drinking coffee fairly regularly, while especially increasing my consumption once I started substitute teaching again in September. I often wonder: Does all of this coffee (and added milk and sugar) have anything to do with continued small flare-ups and my inability to get off of  the dreaded prednisone? I’ve tried to cut down on coffee, but when you’re on your feet teaching a class of noisy, wild, and often obnoxious kids all day, it’s difficult to not have. I need to try harder though, I know.


So what makes me suspect that coffee might play a part in my RA flare-ups? It’s usually very hard for me to determine if any food I eat affects my RA, unlike some people who can see clear connections with food and the disease. However, I have noticed a pattern over the years (I think), when I’ve started working at different administrative/office temporary jobs.

As soon as I would start working in this 8-5 pm office environment, I would immediately begin gulping down coffee and Diet Coke all day–usually to try to stave off boredom and fatigue. Coincidentally(?), I’ve noticed having significant flare-ups at some point when working at these jobs. Is it the coffee? The Diet Coke? Stress from the job? It’s hard to say, but I do think there’s possibly a pattern there. Who knows. RA drives me crazy with its unpredictability and confusing, nonsensical behavior. Finding clear answers for how RA affects your own body is one of the biggest challenges of living with the disease.

Let’s get back to the coffee debate. According to The New York Times article, 64% of Americans drink at least one cup a day, and many support the studies that claim there are health benefits to drinking coffee. As stated in the article, a recent review of studies found that greater coffee consumption was linked to a decrease in the risk of liver cirrhosis. More studies claim it’s linked to other health benefits: reducing tinnitus risk, reducing melanoma risk, surviving colon cancer, and living longer, among others. Click on the links in the article for more information about these claims.

The aforementioned health benefits plus the nice buzz of energy one gets from a strong cup (or two) of coffee sounds great. So why are we debating this? Well, coffee and caffeine have some downsides. One that I’ve personally experienced is increased anxiety symptoms: shakiness, jitters, higher anxiety levels. Insomnia can also be a negative side effect of coffee consumption, due to the caffeine. The article mentions heartburn as a possible coffee side effect, something I’m also familiar with, unfortunately. In fact, I’ve suffered from terrible stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and heartburn from gastritis, which I believe was partly due to drinking a lot of coffee (along with Diet Coke). Coffee, sadly, seems to be hard on the stomach.

Back to coffee’s connection to RA and inflammation: Is there one? I just tried googling to see if I could find any articles supporting an RA-coffee link, however I couldn’t find anything from major news sources. One article from Harvard University (“What is it About Coffee?”) went at length to describe the positive effects of coffee on reducing the risks of getting certain diseases: Alzheimer’s, cancer, liver disease, diabetes, to name a few. A Reuters article from July 2015 (“Coffee Drinking May Lower Inflammation, Reduce Diabetes Risk”) claims coffee reduces inflammation. But what about RA and other inflammatory diseases? I’m still confused.

Again, personally I think I’ve experienced more negative effects from coffee than positive ones. And I just have this hunch that coffee has something to do with some of my RA flare-ups. I’m interested to hear from others with RA if and how drinking coffee has affected their joints and the progression of their disease. I can’t be alone in this, right? Please tell me your coffee stories! And, if there’s a Giving-Up-Coffee support group out there somewhere, please send that info to me as well. In my heart (and joints) I know I need to give up this delicious, energizing friend I rely on every morning. It won’t be easy, but my body will probably thank me for it.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • liz5160
    10 months ago

    Its not the caffeine that causes the issues. It’s the bean! Legumes cause inflammation.

  • JRA4LIFE
    2 years ago

    I have had RA since the age of two and am now 54. My body is destroyed by RA from my head to my toes. I currently drink one cup of coffee a day, usually in the morning. It helps immensely with my ability to move and it lasts almost all day. I rarely drink more than one cup a day and I don’t feel so well if I don’t have it. I know this may be the caffeine talking but, I stopped drinking it for six months and felt bad the whole time. I believe every person has their own chemistry and believe my body works well with coffee. My chemistry seems to be the exact opposite of the normal RA recepient because my flare ups are caused by antibiotics. And I mean all antibiotics! One of my previous Rheumatologists informed me that some RA patients are treated with antibiotics. But I cannot take them as anti’s will kill me. If I must take an antibiotic, I must pair it with a steroid. I have wound up in the ICU many a time because a doctor believes they are more knowledgeable about my body than I! The last time in the ICU, I had a BP of 24/17 and on my way out of this world. My wife had to physically threaten the doctor to give me a steroid. Once I received the steroid, my BP was back to normal within an hour. I have also experimented with night shade vegetables. While most of these do not affect my RA, I found the night shade veggie green bell pepper does. When I eat green bell pepper I can hardly move the next day. There is something about these veggies (tomatoes, white potatoes, green pepper and eggplant) that I encourage all that have RA to experiment themselves and see if these adversely affect them. I have stopped taking the drugs and changed my diet and try to exercise. I say “try” because I can be lazy! But, I feel better, am happier and do more than I ever have without the drugs. As they always say, eat right, exercise and get plenty of sleep and this is the key to freedom. I study natural remedies and have found these do work. However, my body was destroyed by RA and nothing short of Heavenly Father himself can fully fix me. So, if you’re just now developing RA I strongly suggest to avoid the drugs and study natural ways. DIET, EXERCISE AND REST (moderate and maintain)! God bless.

  • Miss Rose
    4 years ago

    I never used to drink coffee because it gave me migraine, but in my later years the headaches tapered off, so I started drinking it socially. My impression was that even one cup, no matter if it’s regular or decaffeinated, triggered a flare that typically lasted days to weeks, even if all I had was the one cup. I cut it out completely and I’m disinclined to try it again, ever. One theory I’ve come across is that coffee sensitivity is related to my many food allergies, born of advanced undiagnosed celiac-sprue. Another is that some celiacs have a cross-reaction to a protein in coffee. It’s not the caffeine. I drink gallons of black tea with milk without ill effect. I suspect the coffee because my diet is quite limited, so there’s no confusion what’s been added from day to day or even week to week. The only confusion is whether the new addition is the culprit, or the wind, or poor sleep, or allergies, or getting chilled, or pulling weeds, or…. But since tea with milk, for me, is nectar of the Godess, leaving coffee alone isn’t a difficult thing. My only carbonated beverage is seltzer or mineral water. Nearly all the others have some form of corn (citric acid, corn syrup, glucose, etc) which is another trigger for me. Celiac-sprue and food allergies increase the sources, and likelihood, of inflammation.

  • Jillian S moderator
    4 years ago

    Miss Rose,
    Thank you so much for your insight!
    It sounds like you have figured out a diet that works well for you to minimize inflammation. While everyone responds differently , many members have found it helpful to eliminate certain foods from their diet.
    I thought you might be interested in reading more about diet and nutrition as it relates to RA here: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/diet-and-nutrition/

    Also as a side note, I hope you are never afflicted with migraine again. But if you are ever looking for more resources and/or support in that realm, check out our sister site at http://www.migraine.com.

    Best,
    Jillian (Rheumatoidarthritis.net Team)

  • hugo rez
    4 years ago

    At home with a relapse of that cough/cold thing going around. The coffee or caffeine issue is huge for me. It is about fatigue. With my RD joint pain and neuropathy have varied degrees of severity but mostly are in control. The fatigue especially if I am out and about can totally overwhelm me. Coffee or Diet Coke like the other comments here help me keep moving. I have low Blood pressure and it is a boost there also. Whole foods sells a low acid blend which decrease stomach issues. I believe it is important to keep moving and active and the caffeine doesn’t eliminate the fatigue but it helps! Interesting topic thanks.

  • Jillian S moderator
    4 years ago

    hugo rez,
    Thank you so much for your feedback. The low acid blend sounds like the best of both worlds. We are glad that you have found something to mitigate the fatigue.
    Thanks for being a part of our community.
    Best,
    Jillian (Rheumatoidarthritis.net Team)

  • Pain day and night
    4 years ago

    I have a story about coffee, too. For many years, maybe twenty years, I stopped using caffeine because it had a very bad effect on me making me ultra jittery, nervous to the point of almost crying, etc. So, I stopped drinking coffee or any caffeine. Then a few years ago, w/my very bad dry mouth from meds, I needed to have something to drink w/me at all times. First I always had a bottle of water, then I tried coffee again & I was alright w/it.Now I drink hot coffee (half reg & half decaf mixed) in the morning and am practically addicted to Iced Coffee all day until dinner time & then I stop or can’t sleep. I don’t have the bad side effects I used to have unless I go overboard some days and I do start having a nervous reaction. I do not use anything but coffee..not milk,sugar,sweetener,flavor, nothing but black coffee. I am at probably the severe part of RA now and I cannot tell if coffee is helping or hurting but I don’t know why I got so hooked on it after not using it for so many years. But, there is something that may be effecting you that is not the coffee. You said you drink Diet Coke. The artificial sweeteners have been proven to be very bad for us, causes inflammation, stomach problems, diarrhea, and maybe worse things than that, so I do not use any of the fake sweeteners and maybe that is what you are getting bad effects from and not the coffee. I don’t know for sure but I do know for sure that people are urged not to use artificial sweeteners at all, very bad for us. Thank you.

  • Jillian S moderator
    4 years ago

    pain day and night,
    Thank for for your comment. You make a good point about other ingredients potentially causing inflammation.
    I thought you might enjoy this article written by one of our moderators on “you are what you eat.” She finds that both coffee and artificial sweeteners make her sick.
    https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/what-eat-the-balance-between-healthy-and-unhealthy/

    We are happy to have you as a part of our community.

    Best,
    Jillian (Rheumatoidarthritis.net Team)

  • mp44sturm
    4 years ago

    I don’t think my RA symptom severity is related to the presence or absence of caffeine. My RA symptoms are clearly related to increased stress and to duration of day: increased stress = increase in RA joint pain & shorter days in winter = worsened joint pain and more fatigue.

  • TinaLarsen
    4 years ago

    Kia ora Angela
    When I tapered from Prednisone I craved the ole coffee, no doubt to replace the reducing stimulation from the steroid. Felt like I was drinking gallons of the stuff – whatever I could get my hands on… the good, the bad, and the truly ugly! You could still be holding ever-so-tightly on to that feeling as you taper perhaps?
    For me, it was early daze, so I was just finding out about RA, talking to everyone, and one guy told me instant coffee was his problem as the bacteria in the stomach loved it. So, I haven’t had instance since.
    Until… My son had a party and I bought a packet of instant for the morning-after cravings of the young party-goer’s. Generous, I know, haha, but it is half the price of beans, you know?! Anyway, his mates didn’t even drink it, so I put it up in the cupboard. Fast-forward a few months and I am out of beans with no chance of shopping for a couple of weeks. So out comes the instant. Ick. Ick. Make another… ick. Another… ick. Ick. Ick! And then ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
    Was it a coincidence? I don’t think so. I drink around 4 cups of coffee a day – when at home I grind the beans and make up a bodum. If I drink the same amount of instant coffee I am in trouble.
    Moral of the story? My son doesn’t drink the stuff but I now feel pretty bad about providing his mate’s (tomorrow’s leaders) the crap coffee while squirrelling away the good stuff. So depending on how thrifty I need to be in a given week, sometimes I ‘don’t’ have any coffee in the house, sometimes I do. But I never have instant… always heaps of tea though!

  • 5pd7ee
    4 years ago

    Oops. Hit the comment button too early. Anyway, I could really relate to “It is really hard for me to determine if any food I eat affects my RA.” I feel crazy trying to figure it out sometimes. I’m glad I am not alone. And caffeine–again–I can’t really tell. This week I am drinking green tea-a few cups- but on the weekends I sometime opt for a large diet soda. My pain often stays the same but sometimes it gets worse or better!
    Anyway thanks for posting–very helpful!

  • Patricia
    4 years ago

    I think, from reading all of this, I am very glad that I do NOT like coffee at all & never drink it. To me, no matter how much milk, cream, sugar, etc any one puts in it, it tastes like a bad liquid medicine. So coffee is never an issue with me & neither is any carbonated beverage, diet or otherwise. I usually have ONE glass of good old Southern Iced Sweet Tea every day at lunch. Otherwise I drink water. I have not had a flare (knock on wood!) since 2012. And the last pill of Prednisone I took was the 1st week of Jan. 2013…and my inflammation level is good; also no need for pain pills…I take my MTX (with a meal), my Hydroxycholoquine (with a meal) and my Folic Acid daily

  • Patricia
    4 years ago

    By the way, I truly think stress played more of a role in my flare than any thing else. Thank God, I am now retired! And happy!!

  • 5pd7ee
    4 years ago

    Hi Angela,
    Thanks for the great article. I was diagnosed with RA 3 years ago and can so relate to many things you talked about. This is my first time posting probably because like you I am a teacher and a mom and there is never enough time! But I am on Spring Break this week so I thought I’d give it a try.

  • Wren moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi, Angela!
    I love coffee. I used to drink a couple of pots a day, every day, and enjoyed every single cup. But when I got high blood pressure a couple of years ago, my doc told me I had to give it up.
    Well.
    I haven’t. But I only drink about a cup and a half in the morning, and again at night. Cutting down took time–I did it by reducing the amount I drank by a cup or so every couple of weeks. I also bought quality decaf, ground it myself, and mixed it with full-caf coffee half-n-half. That helped a lot, and today, if I really want a cup of coffee in the afternoon, that’s what I’ll have. My blood pressure is better now (with medication), but my doc still wants me to drop it entirely. Sigh.

    I’ve noticed no difference in my RD symptoms. They’re worse now than when I was drinking serious coffee, but I don’t really think the lack of coffee is the culprit. Like other commenters have said, we all react differently to coffee and other substances we put into our bodies, and even the RD acts differently in each of us.

    Here’s wishing you the best of luck cutting down or cutting it out. Do it slowly and you’ll avoid the nasty headaches! 🙂

  • hurdy_gurdyman
    4 years ago

    Hi Angela,

    If I was in your shoes, I’d ask a doctor for something for your stomach and heartburn problems before blaming the coffee. My doctor put me on a n over the counter pill called Omeperazole (am I allowed to say the name of an over the counter med my doctor recommended?) I take one pill every day an hour before breakfast. I have been on this for two years now and have had no trouble at all with my stomach. I drink, on average, 5 eight ounce mugs a day of black coffee. Coffee is a serious hobby of mine. I roast my own beans and grind fresh in the morning. Here’s a hint to consider; dark roasted coffee has less caffeine than medium or light, and is less likely to cause stomach problems.

    I’ve been living with RA for 15 years now. I also have peripheral neuropathy. This causes me far more problems these days than RA flareups. The flareups I get are mild compared to what I was getting 15 years agp, or even 10 years ago.

    I understand that a disease like RA can affect people differently. What I’ve said is how it affected me. It may not be any good for you. I’m not a doctor, just a guy that’s been living with this for a while. Now, for another cup O’Joe…

  • Rosiegirl
    4 years ago

    I was down ill with a stomach flu for 10 days. In that time I had no coffee or diet coke. I noticed although I had the flu I had no bad pain. I went to tea because it set on my stomach better. It has been 4 weeks now with no coffee or coke and my RA pain level is significantly better. Do I want to start guzzling it again to test it? NO! Let’s just say I can live with the assumption that the high levels of caffeine was triggering some of my pain and I can live happily on my tea!

  • Pain day and night
    4 years ago

    Hi Rosie 53, I tried drinking green tea for a while and it gave me stabbing stomach pains…I have some stomach problems and this was just very painful and I wanted to keep drinking it because I have read how good it is for us, etc. Still, every day I drank it in the morning and got the stabbing stomach pains again and again (I found that it was the green tea by process of elimination). So, I stopped drinking it and I then bought green tea pills – which say on the label that they may cause stomach upset – so I wasn’t imagining it. The pills gave me the same stabbing pains in the stomach so I just gave up on green tea. Then my adult daughter started drinking it and got the same stomach pains. I can drink any other tea, but not green and I don’t know why.

  • mp44sturm
    4 years ago

    I notice that when I am ill with an infection, my joints don’t hurt. But as I am getting over the infection, my joints start hurting again.

  • hazel
    4 years ago

    Interesting. I enjoy coffee but don’t drink it every day. I do drink soda, usually diet, but again not every day. My biggest RA issue is hearing loss and facial twitch. Don’t ask. I’m on a pretty high dose of steroid which I think helps. I also start every day with excedrin migraine and can tell when I forget to take it. It’s not the asprin or tylenol that does the trick. I’ve tried taking those by themselves. It’s the caffeine.

  • Carla Kienast
    4 years ago

    Wow, Angela. I think you’ve opened a can of worms along with the can of coffee this morning.

    All of us are different and it’s well documented that some people can have one cup of coffee and be jittery all day while others can down a bottomless cup all day, every day. I think this difference extends into other areas including how it affects the inflammatory levels in our bodies — so you may very well be on to something. For myself, when I drank 25 cups a day, I felt great. Now that I’m down to minimal caffeine, I have RA and related inflammatory issues.

    As far as flares and working — I can tell you the day I left the workforce my resting heart rate was 101 bpm. It’s now in the low 70’s. That’s a direct result of stress reduction. For me, stress = flares. Not working = fewer flares.

    Very interesting article. Thanks for posting this.

  • Karen
    4 years ago

    Good morning! My cup is empty and I don’t want to climb out from under a warm blanket to get more. I will soon.
    I am a coffee and tea drinker. No sugar or milk. Never have. I know I am strange. 🙂
    I also don’t drink soda. Never really have. Mountain Dew when we are on a road trip and the coffee is bad. I would look at the diet soda and or the milk and sugar first. (spoken like a coffee drinker)
    If you do not have caffeine every day it can bother a person just like if you have it everyday and for some reason you cannot have some. Terrible headaches are a common problem from caffeine withdrawals. Including if you are just a few hours late. Been there, done that.
    You could try to water down the coffee you are drinking. Make sure it is pure coffee, change brands, things like that.
    I do know I cannot drink decaf, that gets me sick to my stomach and headaches.
    There is something awesome about a hot, fresh cup of coffee early in the morning.
    I wish you the best in sorting this out. And yes, it is time to go refill my cup. Cheers.

  • 1cfk7b6
    4 years ago

    I have more repercussions from diet coke and stress. I would look at those before the coffee. I have given up so much already that coffee is the last pleasure I have. Thanks for posting the article.

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