Coffee and Arthritis: Pros and Cons

A woman standing in her kitchen drinks from a mug.

 Dougal Waters / Getty Images

If you have arthritis, you may wonder whether drinking coffee is beneficial or might lead to a worsening of your condition. Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and there is often discussion about whether that is a good thing for your health.

The research points to both benefits and risks that drinking coffee could have on your health. It also varies with the type of arthritis and whether do drink caffeinated or decaf coffee. So what does the research say about coffee drinking and joint health?

Coffee: Health Benefits and Risks

Coffee contains a variety of nutrients and acts as a stimulant. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system to increase alertness, memory, concentration, and physical performance.

Coffee is a low-calorie beverage when drank by itself, with fewer than 5 calories per 8-ounce cup. In addition to caffeine, coffee also provides:

  • Polyphenols (an antioxidant)
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Niacin (vitamin B3)

Pros

As a stimulant coffee has multiple benefits for your health from improving cognitive performance, boosting metabolism to help with weight loss, increased alertness, decreased fatigue, helping with physical performance during exercise, and decreased cardiovascular disease risk when consumed in moderation.

The polyphenols (antioxidants) in coffee helps to protect the cells in your body from the damage free radicals cause. Free radicals increase inflammation and damage to your body, which increases your risk of developing cancer. Having ample amounts of antioxidants in your diet is associated with a reduced risk of cancer and is protective to the cells.

Coffee also is anti-inflammatory because of the mixture of antioxidants and other active compounds it contains. Chronic inflammation increases the risk of developing and exacerbating many chronic conditions, so reducing the inflammation in your body is beneficial for your health.

Cons

While there are benefits to caffeine, there are also risks associated with drinking it. High doses of caffeine cause side effects like a rapid heart rate, irregular heart rate, higher blood pressure, increased anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and digestive issues.

Caffeine also acts as a mild diuretic, meaning it stimulates the secretion of salt and water through urine, which could lead to mild dehydration.

Coffee and Arthritis

The study findings regarding coffee and arthritis don't provide a clear picture. The type of arthritis, the amount of coffee, and whether it is decaffeinated, all play a role in how coffee affects your joint health.

There are both pros and cons between drinking coffee and arthritis symptoms. For some types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, it could increase your risk of developing the disease, while for other types it seems to be protective.

Another consideration for coffee intake and arthritis is the benefits of coffee for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits that could help reduce inflammation in your joints.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Studies show there is no significant relationship between psoriatic arthritis and coffee consumption. Because of the anti-inflammatory properties of coffee, it can potentially help with some of the joint inflammation and reduce pain.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

The research is conflicting between the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis and coffee consumption.

Some studies have found no increased association between caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee and the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. A couple of studies have found a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis when drinking decaffeinated coffee but found no association with caffeinated coffee.

Another study found that coffee consumption may increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis because it was associated with higher levels of rheumatoid factor.

Coffee could potentially benefit people with rheumatoid arthritis because of the anti-inflammatory properties of coffee. Reducing inflammation in the body could help reduce joint pain. Also, the stimulating effects of caffeine help to fight physical and mental fatigue that is common with rheumatoid arthritis.

Gout

Research shows that coffee consumption can help to reduce the levels of uric acid. Since high levels of serum uric acid are associated with an increased number of gout flares, coffee consumption in moderation is recommended for individuals with gout. This reduction was seen in both caffeinated and decaf coffee.

Osteoarthritis 

Caffeine intake has been found to negatively affect the growth of cartilage and bone, which studies have shown could increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis. The recommendations from a study published in 2020 are to avoid or limit caffeine intake for preventing osteoarthritis. 

What About Decaf?

Besides the removal of caffeine, decaffeinated coffee retains many of the other nutrition benefits associated with coffee, such as the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects from the polyphenols. This means it could still help to fight the inflammation in your body while lowering total caffeine intake.

Rheumatoid arthritis is the primary arthritic disease that is affected by decaf coffee because of the increased associated risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis when drinking decaffeinated coffee.

Risks and Side Effects

Caffeine intake over 400 milligrams per day could lead to an elevated heart rate, mild dehydration, jittery feeling, increased risk for some diseases, and caffeine withdrawal. Caffeine itself isn't addictive, your body may become accustomed to the stimulant.

If you decrease your caffeine intake it could lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, increased fatigue, and difficulty focusing.

It's also important to be mindful of what you drink with your coffee. Do you add a lot of creamer or dairy to your coffee? How much sugar or sweeteners are you adding to your coffee?

The added sugars and fat that is added to coffee increases your total calorie intake for the day, which could make weight maintenance more difficult, and the added sugar could put you at risk for developing conditions like diabetes.

How Much Coffee Is OK?

The recommended safe amount of caffeine to consume in a day is about 400 milligrams (mg), which is about four 8-ounce cups of coffee per day.

When you're considering your total caffeine intake remember to consider other sources of caffeine, including espresso, soft drinks, energy drinks, black or green tea, and energy shots. Dark chocolate is another source of caffeine, providing about 20 mg of caffeine per 1 ounce of dark chocolate.

Caffeine and Arthritis Medications

Coffee intake isn’t contraindicated when taking arthritis medications, but it could influence how you feel while taking some of those medications.

Prednisone

Insomnia is a common side effect of taking prednisone. Taking stimulants, like caffeine or nicotine, can make falling asleep more difficult and increase insomnia symptoms.

Methotrexate

Intolerance to methotrexate is one of the primary reasons for noncompliance with this medication. In a randomized controlled trial, they assessed how caffeine affected methotrexate intolerance. The study found that caffeine decreases the effectiveness of methotrexate slightly and helped to decrease the intolerance symptoms to the medication.

If you are experiencing intolerance to methotrexate be sure to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

The research shows that coffee can affect each type of arthritis differently. Like many things, the biggest risk with coffee intake seems to be when it is consumed at higher than recommended levels.

Try to limit your intake to under 400 milligrams per day and try to reduce the extra sugar and calories mixed into many caffeinated beverages. Coffee can still be a healthy part of your diet and you should discuss the risks and benefits of caffeine intake for your specific health with your doctor. 

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