Coffee is perhaps the beverage that most people think of when looking for an extra source of energy to get through the day’s tasks. However, it seems that coffee, or rather caffeine, can do a lot more than just wake us up.
In fact, there are some studies that suggest caffeine, especially in the form of coffee, can even reduce the risk of depression when consumed frequently.
Depression is a mood disorder that affects approximately 5% of adults worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. This disease is characterized by prolonged periods of extreme sadness.
Sufferers may have multiple seizures during their lifetime that require treatment, as in the worst cases they can lead to suicide.
However, there are various treatment options available to alleviate this disease so that sufferers can regain control of their lives with the help of medication and therapy.
Coffee could help fight depression
According to an evaluation of several scientific studies, drinking coffee can reduce the risk of developing depression by 33%. According to the study, coffee consumption can also help treat depressive symptoms when they are already present.
The caffeine found in coffee and other beverages like tea is thought to block the brain’s adenosine receptors, a natural chemical that can cause fatigue and some of the symptoms associated with depression.
Coffee also stimulates the central nervous system, helping the brain process external stimuli better. So, it is assumed that the nervous system of a person who is depressed is also depressed. Therefore, it makes sense that caffeine helps reduce the severity of depression.
One of the reasons for this is that it reduces the effect of adenosine. Coffee is also said to have a positive effect on the intestines, as it is believed to promote the growth of the body ‘s positive digestive flora.
And that’s a key factor, because there appears to be a link between low levels of gut microorganisms and an increased risk of developing depression.
Why does coffee make us feel better?
Dr. Alan Levinton of Harvard University conducted the research mentioned above, which in turn included more than 100 scientific papers.
These articles focused on research into the effects of coffee consumption on humans. From this information, one could conclude that coffee has a positive effect on mental health. And this effect could be related to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of coffee.
In an article published in May 2020, Dr. Levinton points out that the greatest mental health benefits are found primarily in people who drink at least two cups of coffee a day.
A survey of at least 1,0,000 adults by the South Korean National Health and Nutrition Service yielded interesting results:
- A 32% reduction in the prevalence of depression was seen among those who reported drinking at least 2 cups of coffee per day; this compared to those who reported not drinking coffee.
Another, by Dr. Levinton’s reviewed study, which was conducted on 14,000 university students in Spain and is still being investigated, comes to similar conclusions.
It has been found that college students who drink at least four cups of coffee a day are 20% less likely to develop major depression.
Possible mechanisms of action of coffee on mood
This compilation of scientific information has served to establish, at least theoretically, the possible mechanisms of action of coffee in influencing human mood. Dr. Levinton names several possible mechanisms of action of coffee in the body.
Coffee reduces oxidative stress
Have you heard of free radicals? Well, this cellular waste is one of the causes of cell decay in our bodies.
That’s because they cause a process called oxidative stress. In this way, oxidative stress causes cellular wear and tear and has even been linked to premature aging in humans.
However, coffee contains numerous compounds, including polyphenols, which act as antioxidants to scavenge free radicals in the body. It was found in several studies that were included in the investigation that people with depression have increased indicators of oxidative stress in their blood.
One of the studies even found that women with symptoms of depression tend to have lower intakes of antioxidants in their diet, which could be related to lower coffee consumption.
It should be noted that this study was conducted in the United States, where the main source of antioxidants is coffee.
Coffee can reduce inflammation
There is evidence that people who are depressed often have higher blood levels of proteins associated with inflammatory processes than people who are not depressed.
Suicidal thoughts have also been linked to increased levels of pro-inflammatory substances in the body.
Several types of medications used by doctors to treat depression also lower markers of inflammation in the blood.
It is therefore hypothesized that there is a link between inflammation and the effects of depression.
And according to others in Dr. Levinton’s scientific report, the possible anti-inflammatory effects of coffee and its use in the treatment of depression are currently being investigated.
Caffeine and its effects on the brain
Caffeine wakes us up and gives us energy because when it reaches our brain it prevents adenosine from binding to its receptors.
Adenosine causes a feeling of tiredness when it binds to its receptors, because this substance helps us to fall asleep.
Adenosine is therefore very useful when we need to rest, but not when we have to perform tasks that require our attention.
Several of Dr. Studies reviewed by Levinton suggest that people who drink more coffee have higher levels of adenosine in their blood.
This is because caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors, causing the excess adenosine to enter the blood and be excreted.
For this reason, an increase in adenosine in the serum (blood) is observed. It has also been shown that people with bipolar disorder have lower levels of adenosine in their blood than people without the disorder.
Apparently, adenosine binds more tightly to its receptors and causes more severe symptoms of depression. It is therefore hypothesized that frequent caffeine intake may help prevent the excessive effects of adenosine in the brain.
Healthy gut, healthy mind
Probiotics are microorganisms that improve gut health while relieving depression, at least that’s what some randomized studies suggest.
In addition, frequent coffee consumption seems to help maintain the balance of the gut flora because coffee contains several compounds that feed these bacteria.
A balance of gut bacteria is believed to be related to the production of fatty acids and neurotransmitters that benefit mental health.
Also, probiotics are thought to be present in lower amounts in people suffering from depression.
Because of this, several of the studies reviewed suggest that there may be a link between coffee consumption and higher concentrations of probiotics, which could lead to an improvement in mood.
Coffee stimulates dopamine release
Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters released when a stimulus induces happiness and euphoria.
And it seems that drinking coffee every day in moderation can stimulate the release of dopamine in our brains, which can delay and potentially counteract the effects of depression.
More evidence on the positive effects of coffee in fighting depression
A study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that drinking coffee may reduce women’s risk of developing depression.
The researchers found that the risk of depression decreased by up to 20% in participants who consumed one or more cups of regular (caffeinated) coffee.
In comparison, the other participants who drank less or no coffee did not show the same protection.
In contrast, those who drank decaffeinated coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, or any other beverage with a lower caffeine content than regular coffee did not appear to have any protection against depression.
Carrying out the study
The study involved 50,739 women whose average age was 63 years. They had not been diagnosed with depression when the study began in 1996.
In this way, the scientists tracked the drinking habits of the participants in relation to caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages for more than a decade.
However, more research and more concrete data are needed before caffeine consumption can be recommended as a treatment for depression.
The researchers also point out that coffee consumption should under no circumstances be increased without medical advice, as there is a risk of caffeine overdose.
Take advantage of the positive effect coffee has on mood
If you want to use the stimulating effects of coffee to improve your mood, here’s what you can do.
Do not exaggerate
Avoid consuming more than 4 cups of coffee per day as this amount corresponds to approximately 400 mg of caffeine, which is the recommended dose by the World Health Organization.
Drink black coffee
The best way to reap the full benefits of coffee is to drink it neat, that is, black, with as little sugar as possible (or none at all), and of course, no cream or other additives.
That’s because we want to maximize the effects of caffeine, which while not affected by sugar or cream, can lead to overconsumption, which brings us to the next point.
Avoid a caffeine overdose
When the body is overloaded with caffeine, one or more of the following symptoms may occur:
- Anxiety or acute stress
- Blurred vision
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a caffeine overdose is defined as when daily caffeine intake equals or exceeds 1200 mg.
That’s about 10 to 12 cups of coffee a day. While that may seem like a lot, keep in mind that caffeine tolerance varies from person to person.
So, it can happen that you experience symptoms of an overdose with 400 mg of caffeine. It’s not possible to determine exactly how sensitive you are to caffeine before you start showing symptoms.
So, don’t take chances and drink your coffee wisely.
The bottom line
There is a growing body of research into how coffee can help lessen the effects of depression. However, it should be borne in mind that coffee is not a cure for depression, nor can it replace psychiatric and psychological therapy or pharmacological treatment.
Also, coffee consumption should always be consumed in moderation, as drinking too much coffee or any other caffeinated beverage can lead to overdose or intoxication, which could worsen a depressive crisis.
Therefore, excessive consumption of these or other substances is discouraged.
Also, more research is needed to determine the effects of caffeine on depression and other mood disorders.