Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston found that of more than 5,500 Americans tested, those who drank hot tea or coffee were about half as likely as non-drinkers to harbor methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in their noses. MRSA is a type of bacteria that causes nasty staph infections that are resistant to common antibiotics. Sometimes the infections, which are becoming more common in hospitals and prisons, prove fatal. In 2005, MRSA caused severe infections in 95,000 Americans, killing nearly 19,000.
About 1 percent of the population carries MRSA on their skin or in their noses but usually doesn't get sick.
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The idea for the new study, reported in the July/August 2011 issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, came from the fact that topically applied or inhaled tea extracts have shown anti-MRSA activity. Coffee compounds have shown similar antibacterial compounds, although less research has been done on the beans.
The study confirmed the hypothesis that coffee and tea drinkers are less likely to harbor MRSA. Overall, 1.4 percent of the study group tested positive for the bacteria in their nostrils. But the odds were about 50 percent lower among hot coffee and tea drinkers.
What this finding means, however, is unclear. While the study controlled for such factors as age, race, sex, poverty-income ratio, current health status, hospitalization in the past 12 months, and use of antibiotics in the past month, the results don't prove that tea or coffee consumption causes a lower rate of MRSA infection, just that there is some connection between the two. Although the researchers conclude that their findings "raise the possibility of a promising new method to decrease MRSA nasal carriage that is safe, inexpensive, and easily accessible," for now they are stopping short of recommending people drink coffee and tea.
But snorting them might be worth a shot.