Can Coffee Decrease Depression in Women?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1 in 10 U.S. adults report depression. And that statistic does not include the people who do not report it and seek treatment. defines depression as “an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts and that affects the way a person eats, sleeps, feels about himself or herself, and things about things.”

The signs and symptoms of depression include loss of interest in activities that were once interesting or enjoyable, loss of appetite (with weight loss), or overeating (with weight gain), loss of emotional expression, persistently sad, anxious, or empty mood, feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness, social withdrawal, unusual fatigue, low energy level, sleep disturbance and insomnia, persistent physical problems such as headaches, digestive disorders, or chronic pain that do not respond to treatment, and thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts.

People who tend to be more depressed are women, persons between 45-64 years of age, those previously married, individuals unable to work or unemployed and persons without health insurance coverage.  For us females, I may have good news about how to decrease our risk of depression.

Caffeine is the most frequently used central nervous system stimulant in the world.  Coffee consumption accounts for 80% of this caffeine use.  Alberto Ascherio, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, pointed out that drinking coffee gives a boost of energy and a lift in well being.   “Caffeine is known to affect the brain,” he continues, “It modulates the release of mood transmitters.”

Harvard scientists led by Michel Lucas, researcher in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, conducted a study involving over 50,000 women between 1980 and 2004.  The women averaged 63 years old and none of them were depressed when the study started.

The study found that women who regularly drank more than four cups of coffee a day had a 20% lower risk of developing depression.  Additionally, women who drank two to three cups a day had a 15% lower risk.

Ascherio who was also the author of this study stated, “Our results support a possible protective effect of depression.”  However, it is still not exactly clear how coffee protects against depression, but there are a few hints.

Animal studies have shown that caffeine protects against certain neurotoxins.  Brain receptors that respond to caffeine are concentrated in the basal ganglia, an area important for depression and Parkinson’s disease.  Ascherio suggests that low-dose, chronic stimulation of these receptors may make them more efficient.

Dr. John Greden, executive director of the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Depression Center, agrees with the findings of this Harvard study.  “Clinical depression is found in one out of every six people, roughly, and caffeine is one of the most widely used stimulants in the world,” he said, “If you put those two together, it has always been a logical question to ask, ‘Is there a connection.’”

Ascherio and other researchers caution that this study only shows an association between coffee consumption and depression risk and cannot prove that drinking coffee reduces the risk of depression in women.

“I’m not saying we’re on the path to discovering a new way to prevent depression,” Ascherio said, “But I think you can be reassured that if you are drinking coffee, it is coming out as a positive thing.”

So ladies drink up because it is definitely not a bad thing!


Check out the journal article here.