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Coffee Brews Up Lowered Risk for Depression

< Sep. 28, 2011 > -- Go pour yourself another cup of coffee before you read this - that extra cup of joe may lower your risk for depression.

Although studies have examined the physical effects of coffee - the caffeine boost it gives you - and come away with a mostly positive bill of health, little research has been done on its effect on mental health.

Photo of woman holding mug of coffee in front of tree

A new study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found, however, that women who drank four or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day were 20 percent less likely to develop depression. Those who drank two to three cups a day lowered their risk for depression by 15 percent.

That's in addition to the short-term impact on mental health, says study author Alberto Ascherio, M.D. "Caffeine has ... positive effects on mood, subjective feelings of having more energy and being more awake," he says.

Large-scale study

Dr. Ascherio and other researchers followed almost 51,000 women who were participating in the Nurses' Health Study. The women were at an average age of 63 at the start of the study. None of the women reported being depressed at the beginning of the study and none were on antidepressants.

The researchers measured depression by new diagnoses accompanied by long-term use of antidepressants.

The results were published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Study lessens concerns

Christopher Cargile, M.D., at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, praised the study.

"This may lessen concerns that caffeine consumption will have a negative impact," says Dr. Cargile, who was not involved in the study. "Caffeine at high doses has long been associated with worsening of anxiety and other psychiatric illness, and at times this has lead to lingering concerns that it might be best to limit its use."

Further research needed

Dr. Ascherio acknowledged that more research was needed to tease out the reasons for the link between coffee and decreased risk for depression.

"We don't really know why coffee [over] years can decrease depression," he says.

But, he adds, "if caffeine has some antidepressant effect, we may be able to find compounds with an even stronger antidepressant effect."

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Caffeine Question

How much caffeine does the average caffeine drinker in the U.S. consume?

A. 160 milligrams a day

B. 230 milligrams a day

C. 320 milligrams a day

D. 360 milligrams a day

The correct answer is D. That's about equal to two 12-ounce cups of brewed coffee. But heavy caffeine users may consume nearly 500 mg a day. Coffee and tea account for about 20 percent of caffeine intake for U.S. adults; soft drinks account for about 5 percent of intake. Other sources of caffeine are foods and medications. For children and teens, tea and soft drinks provide the most caffeine in their diets, with the average child taking in from 52 to 109 mg of caffeine a day.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

Archives of Internal Medicine - Coffee, Caffeine, and the Risk of Depression Among Women

Mental Health America - Depression in Women

National Institute of Mental Health - Women and Depression: Discovering Hope