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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  • Comment number 142.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    coffee is NASTY!

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Of course, correlation is no causation.

    And this is a study done in the USA, their coffee is positively horrid and drinking it every day would probably drive me to suicide. So, there you go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    It's great that we can make comments on this research without even reading it.

    Does this just show a problem in the modern age: that we even think we can make valid comments?

    What's the next one: feedback and comments on the general theory of relativity or can a debate for non-experts on the evolution of Spanish into Latin?

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    I'd have thought people with depressive personality types are more inclined to think of the risk of getting a headache or palpitations when offered a fourth cup of coffee, and thus they're more likely to stick to three.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    I've loved coffee for 48 years. Iced in Summer. Hot year round. Coffee flavored ice cream. Love it now as much as ever. Makes me feel good. Lifts my spirits. Energies me when tired. Indispensable in the morning. Hooray for coffee!

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Are they confusing cause with effect - women often drink coffee in social settings. Depressed people tend to have diminished social lives and therefore possibly fewer excuses to drink coffee.

    Reduced coffee drinking might be an indicator of depression without being the cause of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    As someone with depression I can assure you that not Coffee, chocolate, or alcohol have any effect on my mood, positive or negative.
    This survey seems simplistic and lacking in some variables.
    It's like saying those who work drink more coffee, so if you drink coffee you're more likely to get a job....

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Well, since coffee has been used as an anti-depressant for hundreds of years in those places from which it originates, the scientists are probably right. I wonder how much it cost them to find that out?

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    I'm sure it will help with depression, but then we're told that too much coffeee is directly responsible for heart disease.
    Seems that we're caught between a rock and a hard place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    44. Mark Cosens
    Coffee is bad for you. Full stop. It is a drug. A mild one, but a drug nonetheless.

    Literally everything we ingest has something with addictive properties in it. If you don't like coffee and don't want to drink it then don't, the more the merrier for us. But please, spare us your banal rhetoric because you are not in a position to condescend anyone on their dietary choices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    As a Seattlite, drinking a great cup of coffee is a comforting, daily ritual. When I hold that steaming cup of java in my hand, the weather and the day seem approachable. I'm sure that the study is more likely tapping into the psychological effects of ritual rather than a purely physical reaction. e.g. We give tea to upset individuals to calm them down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Surely we need more information about the sample group - those who drank more coffee may have had other behaviours in common which are the real link (see walnutandcoffeecake's comment). As someone who suffers anxiety in depression, I certainly won't be increasing my caffeine intake (something to avoid when anxious for me at least) based on this study.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    I get quite upset by poor quality coffee.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    I know I'd be depressed without the cup currently in front of me ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Perhaps we would be less depressed, if there wasn't some group or other constantly going on about the insignificant choices we are still free to make in our daily life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    An editors pick referred for further consideration.
    Conflict between editor and mods !

    Was Mr. Churchill weak with his BLACK DOG?

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    There are many flaws in this article and it gives people false hope. A credible study would show "caffeine" to have this effect on both men and women- depression affects both sexes! Caffeine can also be consumed in other ways like tea or tablet form, not just coffee. The study doesn't indicate why only coffee and not other forms of caffeine provide this benefit either. I'm not convinced at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    It sounds like if everyone took/did all the various things that can reduce depression, the chance of cancer, increase the chance of joy and wellbeing etc etc by x y or z %, the cumulative effect would lead someone somewhere being way more than 100% fit/happy/healthy/ a brilliant parent etc. I have almost given up coffee over the last few weeks and am now feeling slightly cynical...hmm :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Correlation does not equal causation.
    Ex: robberies are positively correlated with ice cream sales (ie robberies rise as ice cream sales rise). Does this mean that ice cream is somehow tied to burglaries? No, both increase during the summertime.

    Health literature shows that those depressed have fewer working days. Nurses (the study pop) that work a lot would probably drink more coffee.


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