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No Bones About It: Drinking Coffee May Increase Arthritis Risk

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July 25, 2000 -- Here's some news Starbuck's probably doesn't want you to know: A new report suggests heavy coffee drinking may raise your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. The findings are based on two studies of more than 25,000 people in Finland.

"This is probably the most comprehensive look at a large number of patients to look at a potential risk factor," says Beth Jonas, MD. But Jonas, a clinical assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a board-certified rheumatologists, hastens to add that these findings raise many unanswered questions, and that the coffee-drinking habits of those in Finland may not be comparable to those of Americans. Jonas was not involved in the study.

Rheumatoid arthritis is inflammation of the lining of the joints in the body and can lead to deformity and disability. It occurs when the body's immune system attacks the joints, although it is not known why. There is also no cure.

Lead author M. Heliövaara, MD, and his colleagues at the Social Insurance Institution, Research and Development Centre in Turku, Finland, studied the association between coffee drinking, rheumatoid arthritis, and a blood marker called rheumatoid factor that is found in about half the cases of rheumatoid arthritis. They published their findings in the Annals of Rheumatic Disease.

In two large studies starting in the 1970s, Finnish adults were asked questions about their medical history and smoking and drinking habits, as well as their coffee intake. After following the adults for about 15 years, the researchers used health records to determine the number of people who went on to develop rheumatoid factor or rheumatoid arthritis.

Both studies showed an association between the number of cups of coffee drunk daily and the risk of producing rheumatoid factor. In fact, one of the studies showed those who drank four or more cups of coffee each day were twice is likely to have the marker for rheumatoid arthritis. They found the same results even when they adjusted for other risk factors such as age, obesity, alcohol consumption, and smoking.

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