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Coffee Protects Against Drug-Resistant Germs in Latest Benefit

Drinking tea and coffee may be linked to reducing antibiotic resistant bacteria carried by healthy people in their noses, a potential benefit of the beverages that baffled researchers.

People who consumed tea and coffee carried methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, in their noses half as often as those who didn’t, according to a study released today in the Annals of Family Medicine.

MRSA can live in people’s noses without infecting them. It grows and multiplies there, in a process called colonization. Colonized people can spread MRSA to others or become infected through a break of the skin. It is considered a risk for contracting the infection, said Eric Matheson, the study author and a doctor in the department of family medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

“Oral consumption, which is the way most of us drink our tea and coffee, does seem to help, but no one is sure why,” said Matheson in a telephone interview.

Coffee and tea may activate the immune system, or directly damage cells of the bacteria, Matheson said. Both also decrease iron absorption, and MRSA needs iron to grow.

Coffee has been linked in studies to a lower risk of prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, liver cancer, cirrhosis and gallstone disease, Harvard University researchers said in a May 17 analysis in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. It also contains compounds that can reduce inflammation and regulate insulin.

Nose Swabs

Researchers in the study, of 5,000 people, swabbed bacteria from people’s noses to see if they carried MRSA and asked them to answer questions about their beverage consumption. Iced tea and soda had no effect on MRSA, the study found. That may be because the antimicrobial parts of coffee and tea are carried to the nose through steam, the authors wrote.

If the findings hold true in further studies, coffee and tea may prove inexpensive ways to keep MRSA to a minimum in the population, the authors wrote.

MRSA is the most common drug-resistant strain of bacteria, often acquired in hospitals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The hospital-acquired strain sickens about 90,000 people a year in the U.S. and kills about 15,000, according to the Atlanta-based CDC.

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