What effect does caffeine have on depression?
The medical world is divided, however, when it comes to the benefits and risks of caffeine. Its impact on mental health is hotly debated. Many believe that caffeine can relieve depression, while others warn it can make it worse.
This article will seek to look at both sides of the debate while also looking at the effects other foods have on depression.
Possible positive effects
Some studies suggest that coffee may work to counter the negative effects of depression.
Medical studies of the relationship between caffeine intake and depression, particularly when consumed in coffee and tea, often show that caffeine can reduce the incidence of depression. Some even go so far as to suggest caffeine could reduce the incidence of suicide.
Studies carried out in China between 1980 and 2015 found that caffeine-related depression was relatively low, affecting less than 1 percent of people in all cases.
The studies also showed that the risk of depression as a result of caffeine intake actually fell when individuals increased their daily intake of caffeine.
The researchers concluded that consumption of caffeine and coffee significantly decreased the risk of depression.
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.
Why might coffee be better at reducing the risk of depression than tea?
Part of the reason coffee appears to be more effective than tea is because some of its components may counteract the negative effects of depression.
Coffee also contains chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, and caffeic acid. These acids can reduce the inflammation of nerve cells that takes place in the brain of people with depression.
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.
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.
Green tea also contains the following chemicals, which may help with depression:
- Folate, one of the B vitamins, which is widely believed to be an effective mood booster
- Polyphenols, which have antidepressive properties
- Theanine, which has been shown to increase brain dopamine and serotonin levels
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.
Possible negative effects
Other studies show a link between coffee intake and depression.
Not everybody in the medical world agrees that caffeine is an effective protector against depression. Many would argue that it can actually make things worse.
Heavy consumption of coffee and intake of caffeine can result in some unpleasant symptoms, such as:
Each of these symptoms is related to the body's "fight or flight" response. If this response is triggered too often by caffeine, it could lead to inflammation and disease.
Several studies have also shown a connection between coffee intake and an increase in depression. According to one article, caffeine consumption could even worsen depression in people with mood disorders. The study highlighted a tendency towards heightened anxiety, especially with people prone to panic attacks.
Caffeine only provides a temporary boost to the nervous system. As a result, people with depression may experience a more severe drop in their mood once the effect wears off. People who have depression are advised against consuming large amounts of caffeine.
Foods to avoid for people with depression
There are some foods to be avoided when attempting to combat the effects of depression.
Eating a well-balanced diet with friends and family may help to counteract depression.
One of the main foods to avoid is refined sugar. Whether consumed as chocolate or stirred into tea or coffee, refined sugar will give people an immediate rush. After the rush passes, people are often left depleted and lower in mood than they were before.
Other foods that people who are at risk of depression should minimize or avoid include:
- Artificial sweeteners. These block the production of serotonin.
- Processed food, such as white bread, cereals, pasta, and snacks. These have the same effect as sugar
- Hydrogenated oils, such as deep fried chicken, fish, or french fries. Anything cooked in trans fats or saturated fats can clog arteries and prevent blood flowing to the brain.
- Foods high in salt. Large amounts can disrupt the nervous and immune systems and cause tiredness.
- Alcohol. A well-known depressant of the central nervous system.
Caffeine can also cause agitation, tremors, nervousness, and sleeplessness. All of these symptoms can have a negative effect on mood.
Foods that may counteract depression
Though it varies by region, the Mediterranean diet largely consists of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, cereal grains, olive oil, and fish.
The diet is proven to be good for both heart and brain and known to reduce inflammation. It is largely associated with high levels of omega fatty acids, as well as a focus on plant-based food. This all serves to keep mind and body in best health.
The Mayo Clinic outline some key components of the Mediterranean diet as follows:
- mainly eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts
- replacing butter with healthier fats such as olive oil
- flavoring foods with herbs and spices rather than salt
- eating red meat no more than a few times a month
- eating poultry and fish at least twice a week
- eating with family and friends
- consuming alcohol - preferably red wine - in moderation
- getting plenty of exercise
The Western diet, which is generally high in carbohydrates and sugar, can lead to higher levels of depression. In contrast, the Mediterranean diet's focus on legumes, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and fish could ward off depression in dramatic ways.
These foods, along with the diet's emphasis on low levels of red meat and moderate alcohol intake, give the brain and body everything it needs to perform at its ideal level.