A Mocha for Your Mood

The smell of coffee can rouse you out of bed; the taste of coffee can warm your soul. And, the caffeine in coffee can lower the risk of depression. In fact, a new study reports that the more coffee one drinks, the lower the risk.

The study, conducted by Harvard University nutritionists and epidemiologists, was recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The researchers followed more than 50,000 women with an average age of 63 years from May 1980 to April 2004 as part of the Nurses’ Health Study. At the beginning of the study, none of the women had a diagnosis of depression. Researchers collected and analyzed self-reported data regarding tea, coffee, soft drink, and chocolate consumption. Over a 10-year period, 2607 of the women developed depression, defined as physician-diagnosed depression or antidepressant use.

The risk of developing depression was 15% lower for women who consumed 2 to 3 cups of coffee per day, compared with women who consumed less than 1 cup a week. For women who consumed 4 or more cups of coffee daily, the risk was 20% lower. This association was only found for caffeinated coffee. No association was found between depression and caffeine from other sources.

This current study does not prove cause and effect, but does suggest that caffeine has a protective effect against depression, according to the researchers. It is well known that coffee boosts mood and improves alertness, but the mechanism underlying the association with depression is not clear.

Further, this study only evaluated women. No data confirms the same findings in men, or in younger populations. In fact, caffeine consumption in children and adolescents is associated with an increased risk of depressive symptoms.

Caffeine is the world’s most consumed psychoactive substance, with 80% consumed in the form of caffeinated coffee. In addition to the decrease in depressive symptoms confirmed in the current study, caffeine has been shown to decrease the risk of suicide and cognitive failures. It is currently being investigated as a therapeutic alternative for depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and ADHD, though results so far are inconclusive. However, as anyone who has had one too many cups of java in the morning knows, caffeine can cause increased anxiety; high doses of caffeine can lead to psychosis and mania. People with panic and anxiety disorders are particularly susceptible to these effects.

Coffee-drinkers have long self-medicated with caffeine. They adjust the amount, time, and administration intervals of coffee based on the risks and benefits of each dose. Despite the development of possible dependence, coffee is loved and revered the world over. Whether you get your coffee from a well-trained barista or you brew your own blend at home, enjoy that next cup o’ joe, and know you may be doing something good for your mental health.


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Image via Zhukov Oleg / Shutterstock.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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