A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine indicates that women who drink 2 to 3 cups or more of coffee a day are 15-20% less likely to develop clinical depression. Is this finding significant and how should it influence your beverage choices?
First, let’s look at the women who were studied. The average age of the participant was 63 years of age. All participants were female nurse who entered this prospective cohort study on women’s health beginning in 1976. In this sub-study begun in 1996, only women who had not been diagnosed with depression by their doctor and who did not take anti-depressants at that time were included. In their analysis, the researchers considered other factors that might influence risk for depression including marital status, retirement, hormone use and body weight, and tried to tease out the real effect of coffee.
What the researchers found was that even when these other factors were considered, coffee with caffeine did seem to be associated with less risk for being diagnosed with clinical depression over a ten-year period. However, the researchers were quick to point out that other caffeine-containing foods like tea, soft drinks and chocolate did not reduce depression. They also found that decaf coffee had no effect. The researchers acknowledged that this was an observational study and these findings do not prove that coffee with caffeine reduces risk for clinical depression. What it does show is an association of coffee containing caffeine with less depression.
Coffee with caffeine tends to make people feel better and more alert at low to moderate intakes, but as consumption increases anxiety and other negative side-effects can appear. The only way to prove that coffee with caffeine reduces risk for depression is to do a large randomized controlled trial that specifically tests that possibility, and which includes younger women and men.
Maybe the real benefit of coffee on mental health is that break it provides from our hectic day and the opportunity it offers for conversation and support from our family and friends.
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