A new study suggests drinking coffee may protect against multiple sclerosis.

Scientists attribute the effect to caffeine, which has already been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

The researchers analysed data from two Swedish and US studies comparing a total of 2,788 people with MS and almost 4,000 healthy individuals.

Both studies found that participants who did not drink coffee were about one-and-a-half times more likely to develop MS than those who drank several cups a day.

Lead researcher - Dr Ellen Mowry, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, US - said, "Caffeine intake has been associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, and our study shows that coffee intake may also protect against MS, supporting the idea that the drug may have protective effects for the brain.

"Caffeine should be studied for its impact on relapses and long-term disability in MS as well."

The findings were presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Washington DC.