Spotlight on Research for 2004

May 2004 (historical)

Coffee, Tea Not Risk Factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Contrary to previous reports, drinking four or more cups of coffee a day does not put women at risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a new study partially funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). The study concluded that there is little evidence to support a connection between consuming coffee, decaffeinated coffee or tea and the risk of RA among women.

Elizabeth W. Karlson, M.D., and her colleagues at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass., used the Nurse's Health Study, a long-term investigation of nurses' diseases, lifestyles and health practices, to examine possible links between the beverages and RA risk. The researchers were able to follow up more than 90 percent of the original pool of 83,124 participants who answered a 1980 food frequency questionnaire, and no links were found. They also considered changes in diet and habits over a prolonged period of time, and when the results were adjusted for other factors, such as cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and oral contraceptive use, the outcome still showed no relationship between beverage consumption and risk for RA.

Previous research had suggested an association between consuming coffee or decaffeinated coffee and RA risk. According to Dr. Karlson, the data supporting that conclusion were inconsistent. Because the information in the older studies was collected only at one point in time, she says, consideration was not given to other factors associated with RA, such as cigarette smoking and other possible changes in diet and lifestyle over a follow-up period. The new study presents a more accurate picture of beverages and RA risk.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that affects the joints. It results in pain, stiffness, swelling, joint damage and loss of function. Inflammation most often affects the hands and feet and tends to be symmetrical. About one percent of the U.S. population has rheumatoid arthritis.

The mission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a part of the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health, is to support research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases, the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For more information about NIAMS, call the information Clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (free call) or visit the NIAMS Web site at


Karlson E, et al. Coffee consumption and risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis and Rheumatism 2003;48(11):3055-3060