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 if it might make your condition worse. Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages globally, and there is often discussion about whether it is good or bad for your health.

According to the research, when it comes to arthritis, it turns out coffee has both benefits and risks. Risks and benefits vary depending on the type of arthritis and whether you drink caffeinated or decaf coffee.

This article explains the health implications of coffee, its effects on arthritis, and more.

Coffee's Health Benefits and Risks

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

When consumed by itself, coffee is a low-calorie beverage with fewer than five calories per 8-ounce cup. In addition to caffeine, coffee also provides:

Pros

As a stimulant, coffee, when consumed in moderation, has multiple benefits for your health, including:

  • Improving cognitive performance
  • Boosting metabolism
  • Assisting with weight loss
  • Increasing alertness
  • Decreasing fatigue
  • Helping with physical performance during exercise
  • Decreasing cardiovascular disease risk

The antioxidants in coffee help protect the cells in your body from the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals increase inflammation and damage your body, which increases your risk of developing cancer. Having ample antioxidants in your diet reduces your risk of cancer and protects your cells.

Coffee is also anti-inflammatory because of the mixture of antioxidants and other active compounds. Chronic inflammation is a primary symptom of arthritis, 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 it. High doses of caffeine cause side effects like:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Increased anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Digestive issues

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

Recap

Coffee has both health benefits and risks. Its antioxidant properties protect cells, reduce cancer risk, and reduce inflammation. But on the other hand, the significant amount of caffeine in coffee can lead to irregular heart rate, high blood pressure, digestive issues, and anxiety.

Coffee and Arthritis

Research regarding coffee and arthritis doesn't provide a clear picture. That's because certain things like 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 to drinking coffee for 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.

What About Decaf?

Even without caffeine, decaffeinated coffee retains many of the other nutrition benefits associated with coffee, such as polyphenols' antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Those properties could still help fight the inflammation in your body while lowering total caffeine intake.

On the other hand, some studies have found a connection between drinking decaf coffee and an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Psoriatic Arthritis

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

Rheumatoid Arthritis

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

On the other hand, some studies show an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis with coffee consumption, although the research is conflicting.

Some studies have found no increased association between caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee and the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. However, a couple of studies have found a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis from drinking decaffeinated coffee but not 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 (an autoantibody formed in response to rheumatoid arthritis).

Gout

Research shows that coffee consumption can help reduce uric acid levels, a waste product found in the blood. High serum uric acid levels are associated with an increased number of gout flares. This reduction occurred in both caffeinated and decaf coffee. Therefore, consuming coffee in moderation may benefit individuals with gout.

Osteoarthritis 

Caffeine intake has been found to negatively affect the growth of cartilage and bone, which could increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis. A study published in 2020 recommends avoiding or limiting caffeine intake to prevent osteoarthritis. 

Recap

The research on coffee and caffeine is mixed. For some forms of arthritis, coffee seems to hold some benefits, particularly for reducing inflammation and uric acid levels. However, other research suggests that coffee may increase the risk for developing specific types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.

Risks and Side Effects

While coffee in moderation has some health benefits, it can cause unwanted side effects and risks when consumed in excess. Caffeine intake over 400 milligrams per day could lead to:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Mild dehydration
  • Jittery feeling
  • Increased risk for some diseases
  • Caffeine withdrawal (for example, headaches, fatigue, and poor concentration)

In addition, adding creamer, sugar, or other sweeteners increases health risks. For example, added calories and sugar could cause excess weight and increase your risk of developing diabetes.

How Much Coffee Is OK?

Research indicates that a safe amount of daily caffeine intake is about 400 milligrams or about four 8-ounce cups of coffee per day.

When adding up your total caffeine, remember to include other sources of caffeine, including espresso, soft drinks, energy drinks, black or green tea, energy shots, and chocolate.

Caffeine and Arthritis Medications

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

Prednisone

Insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep) is a common side effect of prednisone. Therefore, it's vital to consider how other stimulants, like caffeine or nicotine, can contribute to insomnia and make falling asleep more difficult.

Methotrexate

Methotrexate is a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) that treats some forms of arthritis. Unfortunately, intolerance to methotrexate (the inability to tolerate side effects) is one of the primary reasons for noncompliance with this medication. But, some research indicates that caffeine may reduce methotrexate intolerance.

In a randomized controlled trial, researchers assessed how caffeine affected methotrexate intolerance. The study found that caffeine decreases the effectiveness of methotrexate slightly and thereby helps decrease the intolerance symptoms to the medication.

If you are experiencing intolerance to methotrexate, be sure to discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider.

Recap

Certain arthritis medications may interact with caffeine. For example, the stimulant effect of caffeine may make prednisone's insomnia side effects worse. However, it may reduce intolerance to some medications, like methotrexate.

Summary

Coffee has health benefits and risks. When it comes to arthritis, the same is true. Coffee's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may benefit some forms of arthritis. On the other hand, some research shows that coffee can increase the risk of developing some forms of arthritis. As with most things, moderation is key.

A Word From Verywell

If you enjoy drinking coffee and have arthritis, try to limit your intake to under 400 milligrams per day and reduce the extra sugar and calories mixed into many caffeinated beverages. Coffee can still be a healthy part of your diet, but be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of caffeine intake for your specific health with your healthcare provider. 

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Ashley Braun, MPH, RD
Ashley Braun, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian and public health professional with over 5 years of experience educating people on health related topics using evidence-based information. Her experience includes educating on a wide range of conditions including diabetes, heart disease, HIV, neurological conditions, and more.