Coffee may prevent depression, scientists say

Coffee Coffee must contain caffeine to have the effect, say the researchers

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Women who drink two or more cups of coffee a day are less likely to get depressed, research suggests.

It is not clear why it might have this effect, but the authors believe caffeine in coffee may alter the brain's chemistry. Decaffeinated coffee did not have the same effect.

The findings, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, come from a study of more than 50,000 US female nurses.

The experts are now recommending more work to better understand the link.

And they say it is certainly too soon to start recommending that women should drink more coffee to boost mood.

Caffeine lift

The Harvard Medical School team tracked the health of the women over a decade from 1996 to 2006 and relied on questionnaires to record their coffee consumption.

Start Quote

This fits nicely with a lot of the previous work and what we know about caffeine and the brain”

End Quote Prof Bertil Fredholm Karolinska Institute

Just over 2,600 of the women developed depression over this time period.

More of these women tended to be non- or low-coffee drinkers rather than frequent coffee consumers.

Compared with women who drank one cup of caffeinated coffee or less per week, those who consumed two to three cups per day had a 15% decreased risk of developing depression.

Those who drank four or more cups a day cut their risk by 20%.

Regular coffee drinkers were more likely to smoke and drink alcohol and were less likely to be involved in church, volunteer or community groups. They were also less likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure or diabetes.

Even after controlling for all of these variables, the trend of increasing coffee consumption and lower depression remained.

Mounting evidence

The researchers say their findings add weight to the work of others which found lower suicide rates among coffee drinkers.

They suspect caffeine is the key player - it is known to enhance feelings of wellbeing and energy.

How much caffeine?

  • There is no recommended level a person should consume
  • But pregnant women are advised to consume less than 200mg a day
  • One mug of instant coffee: 100mg
  • One mug of filter coffee: 140mg
  • One mug of tea: 75mg
  • One can of cola: 40mg
  • One 50g bar of milk chocolate: about 25mg

Source: NHS Choices

And it has a physical effect on brain function and transmission by altering chemical pathways, like those involving adenosine. But more research is needed to show if this might mean it is useful for warding off depression.

Alternatively, it might be that people with low moods chose not to drink coffee because it contained caffeine, point out the researchers. One of the common symptoms of depression is disturbed sleep, and caffeine can exacerbate this because it is a stimulant.

Too much caffeine can also increase feelings of anxiety.

Prof Bertil Fredholm, an expert in pharmacology and physiology at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, said the findings were reassuring for coffee-lovers.

"This fits nicely with a lot of the previous work and what we know about caffeine and the brain. It blocks adenosine, which produces a similar effect to increasing dopamine production. And it's becoming increasingly clear that the dopamine-rich areas of the brain are much more important in depression than previously thought.

"Despite valiant efforts to show how dangerous coffee is for us, it is not proving so.

"This removes yet another anxiety regarding caffeine use. Drunk in moderation, the evidence is strong that it is not one of the things we do that is going to damage your health."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    I suppose people are prone to be killed by all the cups of coffee they drank before depression goes away

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    MAY PREVENT DEPRESSION????? These words are so tricky,,,,every potential thing can be given a MAY, namely every thing can be published on this web...

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    This research was funded by Starbucks, Folgers, NesCafe etc. It is interesting how scientist try to generalize when nature is so much more 'individualistic' and beautiful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Every morning I drink my coffee and I say "Thank you coffee."

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Not so long ago we were warned that coffee was bad for us . . . now look at it! Yet more crossed signals to confuse us even further. Never mind a cuppa tea is cheaper!

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    The term (and condition) known as 'Depression' cannot be rigorously defined or diagnosed. It, inevitably, comes down to a 'matter of opinion'.

    Since it cannot be defined, it cannot be counted in sufficient certainty to be involved, numerically, in any kind of statistical survey.

    Therefore, this, and other similar 'surveys' are all pure fantasy. Its only purpose is to fill the feeding trough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    As someone who enjoys a few tipples, I thought it sensible to stop drinking from time to time. The curious thing is that I quickly develop a craving for coffee. Alcohol is a depressent while caffeine is a stimulant so this makes no sense unless you accept the theorey that some people have a genetic predisposition for addiction to just about anything. I suspect I am one of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    @Disco Tony: you read the methods listed in the paper then? There are flaws, but based on the type of trial they did, they need to follow up these initial findings with a randomised clinical trial. It's not flawed, just in initial stages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    This is rubbish - pure and simple. It's SO flawed, you can't even dignify it with the title 'research'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Four hundredths of a single percentage point, not four thousandths. 'Doh! Sorry! (Shuffles off to get more coffee).

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Too much caffeine consumption can cause upper neck pains, headaches, and other pains throughout the body. The findings are interesting to consider, but an individual will need to rethink whether they should simply remove as many stressors as possible from their lives in preventing depression.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    A scientist used to be a novelty, who toiled for years before making a rare discovery, which would be by definition earth-shaking. Nowadays, scientists come in bus-loads, each one eager to take credit for a breakthrough that the other million scientists somehow overlooked. This is why every week we are told of some new yet useless "finding", which is likely to be upended by next week's "research".

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    As with all surveys I ask, who commisioned it?

    I'm guessing in this case 'the coffee council'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    "I found they were just too weak to deal with personal problems or knock backs and searched for help through the medical system which let them down."

    They're likely stronger than you if they're suffering it and living it. It may not help because it's a drug and everyone reacts differently. Interestingly: it's not a cure and they didn't suggest it. It's a matter of it CAN (keyword) help SOME.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    I'm sure being 'invited back for coffee' at least twice a day would make anyone feel a bit less depressed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    The question is - 'Coffee may prevent depression - do you (so presumably I) agree?
    To which the answers are:
    1. yes, I think it may
    2. no, I think it may not
    3. or I could accept I've nothing more than a boring and therefore irrelevant personal anecdote to add to the discussion (discussion?) and simply say nothing.
    However, I have 62 characters left and it seems a shame to waste them 87654321

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    The chance of depression in a woman is 0.29% ([Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]). Drinking coffee reduces it by 15% to 0.25%. A change of four thousandths of one single percentage point. Therefore drinking coffee makes no significant difference to the chances of developing depression, so why are we reading this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    This isn't new. Studies and actual real trials that doctors/patients have known of and for years. I was on a trial and stayed at it: 300mg a day. Had no problems but plenty of benefits. Not only depression, even. Caffeine is a stimulant though - this is expected. Still there's risks for other problems and what it all comes down to is tolerance and the individual's chemistry/health/lifestyle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    To all talking about the coffee companies funding the research: you are most probably wrong. Charities usually fund research, not major companies. Scientists are not all desperate for money to the point where they are willing to manipulate results. They do research out of interest, and, for those saying it's pointless research, they may find a cheap solution to depression, seems worthwhile to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    In response to the comment from Tactician666: I imagine that is why the researchers took the trouble to control for a wide range of variables and to check whether their results were statistically significant. No-one is suggesting caffeine as a substitute for anti-depressants, but if this mild alteration to diet can help 2% of people avoid depression that has to be a good thing doesn't it?


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