Caffeine in Coffee Linked to Lower Depression in Women

a woman drinking a cup of coffee.Making its reappearance in the constant flux of studies on caffeine: the cup of joe. According to a recent study, the caffeine found in coffee has been linked to lower depression in women.

As the study authors report, “Caffeine is the world's most widely used central nervous system stimulant, with approximately 80 percent consumed in the form of coffee.”

According to coffee legend, an Arabian shepherd, Kaldi, found his goats dancing around a green shrub with bright red berries. Noticing the energizing effect the berries had on his goats, Kaldi decided to test some for himself. Thoroughly alert and stimulated, Kaldi introduced the berries to local monks. Their take: instead of chewing the berries, as Kaldi did, they crushed the beans and boiled them in water. They promoted their powerful stimulant, which kept them awake during long hours of prayer, and distributed it to other monasteries. Coffee’s popularity soon grew around the world.  Another legend tells of an Indian smuggler who brought coffee into India with the first seeds strapped to his chest. Today, we have a variety of dizzying choices, frothed, whipped, iced, and on and on.

The authors of the latest study, published in The Archives of Internal Medicine, were looking for insights into the relationship between caffeine and chronic depression incidence in women—which affects twice as many women as men. The study involved approximately 51,000 women, none of whom were depressed at the start of the study. The authors drew data from completed questionnaires beginning from May 1980 through April 2004.

The findings: During the decade-long follow-up from 1996-2006, doctors reported 2, 607 new cases of depression among participants. However, when compared with women who consumed one cup of caffeinated coffee or less per week, those who drank two to three cups per day had about a 15 percent decrease in relative risk for depression. Women who consumed four cups or more per day had a 20 percent decrease in relative risk. As the study pointed out, there was no association between intake of decaf coffee and depression risk. 

Nevertheless, the more burning question remains: why does caffeinated coffee have this effect on staving off depression? Well, as yet, we lack the long-term knowledge needed to answer this question. While scientists seem to have begun to develop a better understanding of the short-term effects of caffeine on the brain, the authors of this study admitted to needing further research in the long-term understanding of caffeinated coffee and depression prevention.

Most likely, it’s probably wise to stick to the one or two cups a day you routinely drink. And if you don’t have a caffeine habit, then maintaining your caffeine-free life probably beats packing in six cups of coffee every day, or looking for it in alternative sources. (What didn’t count in this study: decaf, chocolate, tea, and soft drinks.) 

While the findings of this latest study look promising, there are so many other factors to consider in terms of caffeinated coffee and health. 

Dr. Seth A. Berkowitz, in his editor’s note to the study, commended the work as “an important contribution because it is, to my knowledge, the first large-scale study of coffee consumption to evaluate a mental health outcome in women.” Of course, the tricky gray area is that the study examined women who drank about four to six cups of coffee per day. What it didn’t examine was the effects of upping that daily intake to, say, eight cups a day. Could consuming that higher dose of caffeine be equally as helpful, or the tipping point? 

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