Coffee and Tea: Your Best Bet Against Bacteria?

Coffee and tea drinkers have 50 percent less risk of getting a superbug

It may be immune to antibiotics, but methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus bacteria -- a.k.a. MRSA -- does not fare so well when faced with coffee or tea. At least, that’s what a new study in the Annals of Family Medicine suggests, which found that hot tea and coffee drinkers are about half as likely to have MRSA in their nasal passages than people who don’t drink those beverages.

Coffee and tea have a pile of health benefits, including antimicrobial properties that may help wipe out drug-resistant MRSA. Researchers had already known that when applied topically, coffee and tea have germ-killing instincts, so for this study, scientists wanted to find out if coffee and tea offered assassin-like properties when taken orally.

According to the study’s author, Eric Matheson, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, the more coffee or tea we drink, the lower our risk for MRSA. Just don’t sip your favorite beverage cold -- the study found that iced coffee or tea did not lead to a lower incidence of MRSA. Decaf, however, is a-okay.

While researchers may find this surprising, I’m still reeling to find out that some of us are walking around with a potentially fatal superbug in our noses! Apparently, as I am just learning, MRSA normally lives on the skin and in the nasal passages of healthy people. Only when it enters the body through cuts, sores or infected hospital apparatus (like breathing tubes and catheters) does it cause trouble. Sometimes, the infections are minor, like a pimple or boil, and other times they’re life-threatening and involve the heart, lungs or blood.

When it comes to MRSA, keeping your enemies close may not be a good idea. Background information in this study suggests that carrying the bacteria in your nostrils may significantly increase the risk of an infection. If all it takes is an open wound, from, say, too much nose-blowing to let the bacteria into your bloodstream, I can see why. However, researchers are not all that clear whether coexisting with these bacteria actually increases your risk of getting sick.

While about one-third of the population are staph carriers, luckily only about 1.5 percent of us have MRSA. That’s the reason why you can get the infection from contact sports like wrestling. If you have an open wound and rub up against someone who’s got MRSA on his skin, you can get infected. Likewise, the pool of sweat left behind on the weight bench can also carry the bug. So can towels, razors and soap. That’s why it’s important to use your own personal hygiene products, keep cuts clean and covered, and keep your hands away from cuts and pimples, and out of your eyes, nose and mouth.

Of course, maybe you’d rather just douse yourself repeatedly with hot coffee, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Researchers say that even though this study shows a connection between MRSA and coffee and tea, more research is needed to prove that coffee and tea can kill the buggers.

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