How To Understand the Link Between Caffeine and Arthritis

Always Consult Your Physician, But Go Informed

Cup of coffee with coffee beans

For years, scientists, nutritionists, and experts in the field of arthritis have debated the possible link between caffeine and arthritis. There are over 100 forms of arthritis, with two of the most common types of arthritis being Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

Osteoarthritis targets the cartilage in joints, resulting in pain, tenderness, swelling, and decreased function of the joints as the surrounding tissue is damaged. This form of arthritis is most often age-related, with the majority of cases affecting people in their early 60s. Recommended treatment includes weight reduction, exercise, heat on the affected joints, pain medication, and in severe cases, replacement of the joint.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a painful inflammation which primarily affects joints, but can also attack the skin, blood vessels, heart, lungs, and muscles. The onset of this form of arthritis is not necessarily age-related, but is believed to be either through genetics or environment (the world around us, what we consume and what we come in contact with). The cause of this autoimmune disease is unknown, and, although there are known pain relief medications and it may go into remission, there is no cure. 

Since the cause of Rheumatoid Arthritis can be related to how we conduct our lives, there is constant and ongoing research trying to identify if there is any possible connection between caffeine stimulants and the onset of this form of arthritis. When most of us think of caffeine, we immediately associate it with coffee. But caffeine can be found in more than just coffee. There are teas (oolong, black and green) which sometimes have an even higher concentration of caffeine than coffee. Sports drinks may contain up to 80 milligrams of caffeine per serving and soft drinks contain anywhere from 10 to 50 milligrams per serving. Chocolate contains trace amounts of caffeine, probably not enough for a human to feel the effect, but this stimulant is still part of chocolate.

Following are three points of information to have at your command when discussing a course of treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis with your physician:

  1. Methotrexate treatment. Caffeine does not appear to compromise the effectiveness of Methotrexate, a drug commonly used to treat RA. As noted by The Journal of Rheumatology, an average of two cups of coffee per day resulted in no significant changes in patients in relation to swollen and/or painful joints, stiffness in the morning or in the efficacy of the medication. In addition to these findings, higher coffee consumption was also looked at and found not to show a significant difference.
  2. Elimination diet. Common thought in treating the pain and severity of arthritis is to possibly eliminate triggers that may exacerbate the disease. Stress cannot always be eliminated, but foods can be. Try eliminating caffeine from your diet for at least a week even if it is not deemed an “offender.” If the pain decreases, caffeine may be an offender in your system. Other possible food allergens could be dairy products, acidic vegetables, sugars, red meats, salt or other additives, and chocolate.
  3. Decaffeinated coffee. Rheumatologist Ted R. Mikuls, at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, conducted a study of 31,000 women between the ages of 55 and 69, over a period of 11 years. It was shown over the course of this study that drinking four or more cups of decaffeinated coffee may increase the possibility of developing Rheumatoid Arthritis. These findings were reported by the American College of Rheumatology at the annual meeting in November, 2001. Additional research is ongoing regarding this link between decaf coffee and the onset of Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Considering the effects of caffeine on the nervous system, such as the possibility of insomnia, loss of minerals in bone density, heart palpitations, nervousness, and hand tremors, the thought of trying to deal with Rheumatoid Arthritis under these less-than-stellar circumstances does give one pause. With continuing research and ongoing studies being conducted in regards to the relationship between caffeine and arthritis, a person dealing with the onset of RA or any of the over 100 forms of arthritis should always consult his physician for his recommendations. Reducing pain and promoting healing in swollen and painful joints requires constant vigilance through medication, exercise, and dietary choices.


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