Coffee May Help Prevent Depression

Coffee lovers know that a cup of java can work wonders on a grumpy mood, but now there’s medical proof that the lift may be more long-lasting than previously suspected. A study published in the Sept 26 2011 issue of the National Archives of Internal Medicine notes a 20% reduction in the risk of clinical depression for women who drink 4 or more cups of coffee daily.

Like many other recent studies, this one used data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 50,000 women from 1996 to 2006. Each participant filled out detailed questionnaires about their diet, health habits and other factors, including their caffeine use. Information gathered from the Nurses’ Health Study has pointed researchers toward other positive and negative effects of coffee and caffeine over the years, including the positive effect that coffee seems to have in preventing diabetes and some types of cancer.

Researchers are the Harvard School of Public Health turned to the Nurses’ Health Study to determine if there may be a connection between caffeine consumption and depression. They found that women who drink two to three cups of caffeinated coffee daily reduced their risk of clinical depression by 15 percent. Women who drink four or more cups of caffeinated coffee daily reduced their risk of clinical depression by 20 percent.

Earlier research suggested similar findings. A 1996 study using an earlier Nurses’ Health Study with more than 85,000 participants found a significant decrease in risk of suicide among women who drink two to three cups or four or more cups of coffee daily. While these specific studies focused on women, a study of 2,200 Finnish men also showed similar results. The Finnish researchers followed the men from 1989 through the end of 2006 and found that those who drank four or more cups of coffee daily had a significantly lower risk of depression than the men who drank less coffee or no coffee at all. There was no beneficial effect noted for tea drinkers or those who used other forms of caffeine.

The Harvard researchers in the most recent study also found that there was no difference in the rates of depression for women who drank decaf coffee, nor was there a difference for women who consumed caffeine in other foods or beverages, such as tea, soft drinks and chocolate. The researchers speculated that the reason might be that it’s difficult to consume as much caffeine in other forms, though there’s also the possibility that there is a synergistic effect at play.

While researchers aren’t certain of the exact mechanism by which coffee reduces depression risk, other researchers have some theories, which they are exploring in various studies and experiments around the world. They know, for example, that caffeine increases dopamine levels in the body and may strengthen neurons in cells that are prone to neurodegenerative diseases.

Medical professional point out, though, that there’s a great deal more research to be done, and you shouldn’t go out and start drinking large amounts of coffee just for the anti-depressant effect. In fact, caffeine can also trigger anxiety, headaches and other less desirable side effects. Like anything else, enjoy your coffee in moderation.