Drinking coffee may have a hand in lowering risks of multiple sclerosis, according to a study to be presented at the 67th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in April.

Consuming coffee or caffeine has long been associated with reducing risks for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, but it's only now that a study has supported the stimulant's ability to protect the brain, explained Ellen Mowry, M.D., M.C.R. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and one of the authors of the study.

Researchers analyzed data from two studies: one in Sweden involving 2,807 healthy individuals and 1,629 with multiple sclerosis and another in the United States that enlisted 1,172 healthy people and 1,159 persons with multiple sclerosis. Both studies characterized consumption of coffee in their subjects with multiple sclerosis between one and five years before the disease's symptoms started (also 10 years prior in the Swedish study), comparing trends with coffee consumption in healthy people for similar periods of time. Factors like sun exposure habits, body mass index, smoking, sex and age were also factored in.

According to the Swedish study, those who didn't drink at least six cups of coffee each day for the year before symptoms started appearing had 1.5 times more risks of developing multiple sclerosis. In the time period five or 10 years before symptoms began, consuming coffee in large amounts also had protective effects.

In the U.S. study, those who weren't coffee drinkers also registered about 1.5 times more risk at developing multiple sclerosis compared to those who consumed at least four cups of coffee every day in the year preceding the start of symptoms.

"Caffeine should be studied for its impact on relapses and long-term disability in MS as well," added Mowry.

The research Mowry and colleagues carried out was supported by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the Swedish Association for Persons with Neurological Disabilities, the Swedish Brain Foundation, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, Working Life and Welfare, the Swedish Research Council for Health and the Swedish Medical Research Council.

Most healthy adults can tolerate up to 400 mg of caffeine in a day, which is equivalent to about four cups of coffee. Children, however, should not be allowed to drink over 100 mg of caffeine in a day. Heavy caffeine consumption can lead to difficulty sleeping at night.

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