July 11, 2011 -- Can drinking a steaming hot cup of coffee or tea reduce the likelihood of having MRSA bacteria lurking inside your nose? New research in the Annals of Family Medicine says these beverages have antimicrobial properties and drinking hot tea or coffee is associated with a lower risk of carrying MRSA bacteria within the nasal passages.
Nearly 2.5 million people have evidence of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) inside their noses. In the study, people who drank hot tea were 50% less likely to have MRSA in their nose, compared with people who did not drink hot tea. The same held for people who drank coffee vs. those who didn’t. Soft drinks and iced tea had no significant effect on nasal MRSA risk.
The more coffee or tea participants drank, the lower their risk for MRSA, says study author Eric Matheson, MD, an assistant professor of family medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
MRSA often causes illness when it comes into contact with an open skin wound. People with weakened immune systems are at higher than average risk of having an MRSA-related illness. Hospital-acquired MRSA accounts for many fatal MRSA infections, and these bugs tend to be resistant to many antibiotics.
Some Like It Hot
The study showed an association between tea and coffee drinking and MRSA risk, but does not show cause and effect. “The next logical step is to see if tea or coffee has any effect on people with MRSA,” Matheson says.
There are a few theories as to why tea and coffee -- as long as it is hot -- may help.
“Certain compounds in tea or tea-based extracts may have antimicrobial properties that can possibly destabilize and weaken this superbug,” he says.
Just don’t put your beverage on ice, Matheson says. “Some of these compounds may be destroyed when they are iced, as they are more soluble at higher temperatures,” he says. It may also be that some of the antimicrobial compounds are breathed in via the vapors from piping hot cups of coffee or tea.
“If you don’t drink coffee or tea and work in a health care setting, you may want to start and this may decrease your risk of carrying MRSA in the nose,” he says. “It couldn’t hurt.”
More Research Needed
“This is really a tease,” says Bruce Hirsch, MD, an infectious disease expert at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.
“This is not a definitive finding or something that indicates hot coffee or tea reduces MRSA nasal carriage by 50%, but it is an intriguing clue and an interesting finding,” he says. “Because of the impact of MRSA, it should be explored.”
Still, Hirsch has no intention of making any changes to his coffee or tea habits as a result of this one study, he says.
Philip Tierno, PhD, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at the New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, is a little more skeptical about coffee and tea’s ability to take on MRSA.
“Tea and coffee do have antimicrobial properties, but antibiotics, which have massive microbial properties, don't work at eliminating MRSA” he says.