Coffee Good For Depression? Harvard Says Yes…

Depression is a gripping and difficult state of mind to experience.  What if there was an easy way to avoid those days where you just can’t view the world using your positive self?  Is Coffee Good for Depression?

Harvard studies are is finding evidence that drinking more coffee is one viable solution for depression (and other health benefits).

I want to reduce my risk of having depression.  What do I have to do?

Well, it appears you just need to find a good cup of coffee and sip your worries away.  In this article, I go into the latest research about coffee drinking and how it relates to depression and other health issues.

The folks at Harvard have published decade long studies that touch on correlation between drinking coffee with risks of depression, diabetes, and other health issues.

But, there’s a catch.

It’s not for everyone…  Read on to see if drinking a regular amount of coffee could benefit you.

It’s important to state that these studies show trends in human behavior.  However, individual results  and factors can and often do vary.  So, please consult with your doctor BEFORE making any lifestyle changes.

Can Coffee Help With Your Depression?

Depression affects Men and Women differently.

The following studies have been performed and reported in medical journals for each.

How Coffee Helps Women With Depression

Coffee is a well known source of morning comfort.  But, can it also be an active participant in the fight against clinical depression?  Is coffee good for depression?

A study in 2011 titled Coffee, caffeine, and risk of depression among women led by the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, and the Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital says:

Yes!

What did they find?

The Nurses’ Health Study sends out questionnaires to the nursing population bi-annually.  They have been doing this since 1976.

By participating in these questionnaires, the nursing population provides valuable data that can be analyzed for patterns.

Here’s the deal:

The nursing participants receive questionnaires through the mail every two years to update their personal information.  The questions vary, but include topics about their lifestyle, their medical history and more recently newly-diagnosed medical illnesses.

How Does This Relate To Coffee?

The questionnaires includes the following questions about the previous two years for the individual.  For example, in the 2016 questionnaire one question reads:

12. Since June 2014, have you had any of these clinician diagnosed illnesses?

Depression, clinician diagnosed (Y, N)
If ‘Y’, check one of the following:
BEFORE JUNE 1, 2014
JUNE ’14 TO MAY 2016
AFTER JUNE 1, 2016

The questionnaire then goes on to ask the individual to check boxes for medication use:

Other Regularly Used Medications:

SNRIs /Other antidepressants (Wellbutrin, Effexor,
Remeron, Cymbalta, veniafaxine, bupropion)

Why is this important?

The Harvard coffee study created a baseline population by identifying questionnaires of 50,739 nurses in the United States that did not have depression in 1996.

The study then measured coffee consumption in this population (with a focus on caffeinated coffee) using validated questionnaires sent to this population.

The following table shows the results of the study:

Coffee Cups ConsumedCaffeine Per Day (all sources)Less Risk of Depression
1 or less per week73 mgBaseline
2-6 per week127 mg0%
1 per day232 mg8%
2-3 per day386 mg15%
4 or more per day649 mg20%

Bottom line?

The study does state that further studies need to be performed to confirm these results.  However, concluded that there is a relationship between how often you (in this case the women answering the questionnaires) drink caffeinated coffee per day.

In the case of a woman that drinks 4 or more cups a day, they can have as much as a 20% less risk of becoming depressed!

How Coffee Helps Men With Depression

You might be wondering why this Nurses’ Health Study only reports about women.  After all, not all Nurses are women.

Right?

Well, the Nurses’ Health Study is in their third iteration.  And, in this third iteration, they do talk about including men.

However, the parent NHS website only posts the questionnaires for the original NHS participants and the NHS2 (2nd iteration) participants.  A NHS3 questionnaire was not available on this page when this article was published.

In the NHS and NHS2 questionnaires, there are still questions like:

4. Have you had your uterus removed?

So for now, this organization just doesn’t have the data for men to be able to perform the same study for men.

But, there’s good news…

Harvard doesn’t let us down.  In this Harvard Gazette newsletter article titled Coffee drinking tied to lower risk of suicide, the article points to a study with 43,599 participating men.

In this study, men that drink several cups of coffee a day had the risk of suicide reduced by around 50%.

Can Coffee Help You to Live Longer?

With these studies, it seems the folks at Harvard have found a correlation between moderate coffee drinking and depression.  In other words, the answer seems to be Yes to the question Is Coffee Good For Depression?

But, are there other health benefits to drinking several cups of coffee at day?

Once again, the folks at Harvard tackle this question by publishing a different study relating coffee drinking to life longevity.

This study published by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health talks about the health benefits of drinking at least 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day.

What’s the real story?

The Nurses’ Health Study groups NHS and HHS2 provide data from 167,944 women.  And, the Health Professionals Follow-up Study provides the data for 40,557 men.

The study also used the same follow up verified questionnaires we talked about earlier that quantify how much coffee each individual drinks.

During the study 19,524 women and 12,432 men died.

The study focuses on the relationship between how much coffee each person drinks on average per day.  And, for each level of coffee drinker, how the numbers change in terms of how many from each coffee drinking group died.

Here were the numbers when restricting to those that don’t smoke when comparing coffee drinkers to those that don’t drink coffee:

Coffee Cups Consumed Per DayPercentage Less That Died
0Baseline
1 or less6%
1.1 - 3.08%
3.5 - 5.015%
More than 5.012%

What does all of this mean?

With regard to death causes related to heart disease, suicide, and neurological disease, the lowest death rates were found for moderate coffee drinkers.  The interesting part was that it didn’t matter if the coffee was caffeinated or not.

Is More Coffee For Me?

So, is drinking more coffee good for depression (and other health issues)?

“Cup of Science” by Glenn Strong, via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Not so fast!

While studies are showing some correlation between drinking coffee and better health and fewer risks for depression, that doesn’t mean any of this will work for you.

Drinking 4 or more cups of coffee can also have negative side effects.

As always, talk to your doctor about your specific circumstances.  You may have factors that make you either an excellent candidate for receiving improvements by drinking more coffee.  Or, you might have specific health factors that would make you a terrible candidate for an increase in coffee consumption.

What should I look for?

The Mayo Clinic offers this advice.  If you are already in the habit of drinking 4 or more cups of coffee a day and you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Can’t control urination
  • Constant need to urinate
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Migraine headache
  • Muscle tremors
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Stomach upset
The Mayo Clinic recommends to cut back on your coffee intake to alleviate these symptoms.  We recommend that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, be sure to let your doctor know so they can make sure it’s not just the coffee talking.

Wrap Up: Coffee Good For Depression

Depression can be a difficult beast to tackle.  ADAA estimates that over 15 million Americans suffer from persistent depression that has lasted at least 2 years.

The World Health Organization puts the numbers at over 300 million world wide.

If coffee can help you avoid depression, then talk to your doctor and see if moderate (2-4 cups of coffee a day) might help.

Is Coffee Good For Depression?  Harvard’s studies do seem to provide hope that it does help.  Hopefully these studies will spur additional studies that can further pinpoint the exact reasons for depression, diabetes, heart disease and other related health issues.

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