Depression and Caffeine - Is it good or bad?

by Mark Miller October 23, 2017

depression and caffeine

(Tellemeimok photo/Creative Commons)

Scientists debate whether caffeine has a positive or negative effect on people suffering from depression. Recent studies have found a plethora of positive effects of caffeine, including preventing some diseases and enhancing mental acuity and athletic prowess.

The effects of caffeine on one's mental state are an important area for scientists to explore because about 90 percent of the world's adults take the stimulating substance. Some prefer coffee, some tea, some soda pop and others take it in energy drinks. Caffeine is also in chocolate, some over-the-counter pain relievers and other products, including Viter Energy Mints.

Scientists are divided

As to depression and caffeine, some scientists say it helps alleviate symptoms, and some say it causes depression to worsen. Some claim caffeine's positive effects are so great that it can help prevent suicide.

A group of Chinese scientists studied caffeine and its effects on the psyche and depression from 1980 to 2015, says Medical News Today in this article. Those researchers concluded caffeine caused depression in about 1 percent of people.

But the Chinese studies also found that depression was less of a risk among test subjects who increased their intake of caffeine each day. The upshot to these Chinese studies was that taking caffeine and coffee actually reduced the incidence of depression.

Another group of researchers, from Europe, published a study of caffeine's effects or risks with respect to depression. Their conclusion, announced in 2015 in this journal article: "This study suggests a protective effect of coffee and, partially, of tea and caffeine on risk of depression."

Medical News Today summed up the Italian and Polish researchers' article:

Another analysis of 12 studies looked at the relationship between caffeine and depression, in 346,913 individuals and 8,146 cases of depression. The study concluded that caffeine, particularly in coffee, had a protective effect in preventing depression.

This study also found that tea, with its lower caffeine content per cup, was less protective in preventing depression, but still effective to some extent.

Coffee may be better than tea

Other researchers speculated coffee may help prevent depression more than tea because it has more chemical compounds that counteract depression. One way coffee is believed to combat depression is because these compounds reduce inflammation in the nerve cells in depressed people's brains. The compounds are caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid and ferulic acid.

That study concluded: "Along with caffeine's natural antioxidant properties, coffee can act as an anti-inflammatory in affected parts of the brain. This may relieve some of the discomfort and distress caused by depression, which is related to inflammation."

Medical News Today reported on a meta-study of 12 scholarly papers from other researchers that found:

Another analysis of 12 studies looked at the relationship between caffeine and depression, in 346,913 individuals and 8,146 cases of depression. The study concluded that caffeine, particularly in coffee, had a protective effect in preventing depression.

What about green tea?

One study found tea helped with depression but not as effectively as coffee. Mental Health Today writes:

Not all tea is less effective than coffee at reducing the risk of depression. Green tea, with its high antioxidant properties, can be as effective as coffee in protecting against depression.

In addition to caffeine, green tea has a B vitamin, folate, which is considered a mood booster; polyphenols that are believed to help overcome depression; and theanine, which studies show increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.

Medical News Today writes:

A Japanese study of a cross section of the working population concluded that consumption of green tea, coffee, and caffeine all played a protective role in the preventing depression.

Arguments against caffeine

Some research has found that copious amounts of coffee and caffeine can worsen one's mental state. Coffee and/or caffeine taken in large amounts can result in headaches, anxiety, nausea, restlessness, increased blood pressure and palpitations.

Medical News Today says these symptoms are part of the fight or flight process. If the fight or flight symptoms occur too often from caffeine, inflammation and disease could result.

Coffee consumption may result in a heightened risk of depression, some studies have show. One study says taking caffeine might intensify depression and result in anxiety if the person has a mood disorder.

Further, caffeine's effects are temporary, and depressed people could experience a crash in mood when it wears off. "People who have depression are advised against consuming large amounts of caffeine," Medical News Today concludes.

Depression and caffeine

Mayo Clinic says there isn't a clear link between caffeine consumption and depression. There may be some cause and effect in people who consume too much caffeine or who are more sensitive to it.

The article at Mayo Clinic's website states:

  • Caffeine can cause sleep problems that affect mood. Caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Lack of sleep can worsen depression. If you have trouble sleeping, don't drink caffeinated beverages late in the day. Some people need to limit caffeine to the morning or quit drinking caffeinated beverages completely to avoid sleep problems. Also, anxiety and depression often occur together, and caffeine can worsen anxiety.
  • Stopping abruptly can worsen depression. If you regularly drink caffeinated beverages, quitting can cause a depressed mood until your body adjusts. It can also cause other signs and symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue and irritability.

With the popularity of coffee and tea nowadays, one might wonder whether depression would result not from chemical withdrawal from caffeine but from the loss of pleasure. Despite all these years of researchers warnings and urban legends about the bad effects of caffeine, most people went right on drinking caffeinated beverages anyway.


Mark Miller
Mark Miller

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