for your health Dr. Keith Roach
Dear Dr. Roach,: I am a 68 year old female. When I was 12, I was 5 feet 5 inches tall. I am now 4 feet 8 inches tall. I suffer from scoliosis as well as degenerative arthritis of the spine and I walk a curve.
While walking with a retired doctor, I mentioned that I’m not supposed to drink coffee, as it has such a bad effect on my bones. With his eyebrows raised, he took out his phone and said, “Oh my God, that’s right. Coffee is not good for the bones.”
I like coffee. So I put 1/8 teaspoon of regular ground coffee in a cup of hot water. But, is decaffeinated coffee any good? Does it have a negative effect on the bones? I can’t lose any more height.
Answer: Some medical questions require more than a peek at Internet search results. The effect of coffee (and caffeine) on bones is complex, and there have been different studies with seemingly different conclusions.
First, she didn’t mention one of the most common reasons why many women lose their height, which is a fracture of one or more vertebrae, which is usually caused by osteoporosis.
Scoliosis is an S-shaped curvature of the spine when looking at a person from behind, with one shoulder almost always higher than the other. Kyphosis – also often caused by osteoporosis in older men and women – is an exaggerated curvature of the spine seen from the person’s side (used to be a “widow’s hump”).
Osteoarthritis can worsen the curvature and cause a loss of space in the discs between the vertebrae. To my knowledge, there is no effect of coffee or caffeine on scoliosis or osteoarthritis.
Caffeine has been shown in some studies to accelerate bone loss due to osteoporosis, and expose people to fractures. The effect was shown in studies of women who consumed more than 300 mg of caffeine, about 3 cups per day. This varies greatly depending on the strength and size of your cup, of course. Other studies have shown that for women who consume enough calcium in their diet, caffeine does not worsen osteoporosis, even when the woman drinks a lot of coffee.
You should consult your doctor about osteoarthritis, as you may have it as well as other back problems. But I think you have unnecessarily deprived yourself of something you enjoy.
Dear Dr. Roach: Read about damiana as a remedy to increase sex drive. Is this safe and effective? – SB answer: Damiana is an extract from the shrub Turnera diffusa, found in California and Mexico. There hasn’t been much research on Damiana. Some animal studies show benefit in males but not females, with small female studies showing benefit in combination with a variety of other herbs.
There is very limited safety data, with one case of possible cyanide poisoning after ingestion of very large amounts of damiana extract, and another case of convulsions reported. At recommended doses, Damiana is likely safe, but I cannot recommend it based on current safety and efficacy data.
* * * Dr. Roach regrets being unable to respond to individual messages, but will include them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or send mail to 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.