Decaf May Increases Arthritis Risk

ByABC News
November 9, 2001, 11:37 AM

Nov. 12 -- For many people, eliminating caffeine from their diet is part of a healthy lifestyle. However, new research shows some decaffeinated beverages may actually increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA, is an autoimmune disease characterized by painful inflammation of the joints and internal organs. According to the Atlanta-based Arthritis Foundation, 2.1 million Americans suffer from RA, most of them women.

According to a study of more than 31,336 women aged 55-69, women who reported consuming four or more cups of decaffeinated coffee a day were more than twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, compared to women who never drank decaf. The findings were presented Sunday at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in San Francisco.

Regular java junkies can breathe a sigh of relief, since no link was seen between caffeinated coffee intake and rheumatoid arthritis risk.

Reasons Unknown

Previous studies done by Finnish researchers had origianlly established a link between overall coffee intake and RA in March 2000, says lead author Dr. Ted Mikuls, a rheumatologist in the division of clinical immunology and rheumatology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The study found people who drank 11 or more cups of coffee a day were nearly 15 times more likely to develop RA than those who did not drink coffee. But "the study looked at [all] coffee, with really no breakdown of coffee types," says Mikuls.

The exact mechanisms behind the most recent findings are "purely speculation" at this point, says Mikuls. One idea is that it may have something to do with the way decaf coffee was processed.

"In the mid-1980s and before that, the decaffeination process involved the use of chemicals and chemical solvents," says Mikuls. These chemicals may be to blame for the increase seen in the decaf study. However, these findings may not be seen with today's decaf because it is now processed differently.