When you grab that morning cup of java, you're probably not thinking of it as an antidepressant. You're just trying to get that morning pick me up to get your day going. However, recent studies have shown that java really does function as an antidepressant, raising the spirits of people who regularly drink the stuff. It acts on the central nervous system and has mild antidepressant effects.
Coffee and depression studies have found that drinking coffee reduced the rate of suicide in the large demographic populations observed. The first coffee and depression study that raised the topic of java as an antidepressant was done in 1993. In this study, a Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program study of 128,934 nurses found that java drinkers were significantly less likely to commit suicide than nondrinkers. This Nurse's Health Study on coffee and depression did not go so far as to establish a causal relationship between java drinking and the drop in the suicide rate. The study stated that it could be that the coffee itself had little to do with it, but that people who drink coffee share other characteristics that make them less likely to commit suicide. A second study on coffee and depression, however, confirmed these controversial findings and went farther as to state that it was the coffee that dropped the suicide rate.
This study was especially noteworthy, as it was large-scale and adjusted for a wide range of other factors. Published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 1996, the study followed more than 86,000 registered nurses in the United States between 34 and 59 years of age for ten years. Dr. Ichiro Kawachi, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School who led this study, looked at the data from the Kaiser Permanente study hoping to discount their findings.
Instead of what he expected to find, he confirmed the original study's results with his own: using coffee as an antidepressant reduced the suicide rate in these nurses. Dr. Kawachi discovered that the nurses he studied who drank two to three cups of coffee a day were one-third less likely to commit suicide as those who didn't drink any. The nurses who drank more than four cups a day were 58% less likely to commit suicide than their colleagues who drank less. The coffee and depression study of female nurses found eleven suicides among those who drank two to three cups of caffeinated coffee per day, compared with twenty-one cases of suicide among those who said they almost never drank coffee. However, Dr.
Kawachi and others aren't ready yet to use coffee as an antidepressant for clinical depression. At the minimum, Dr. Kawachi says that his study shows that drinking lots of coffee can't be bad for your health. Psychiatrists point out that people must understand that depression isn't simply a state of mind; it is a very serious medical issue that cannot be resolved simply by drinking coffee. And cardiologists, while they recommend to their patients with heart and other health problems to steer clear of caffeine, know that it's not good for a patient's mental health to do so immediately in a cold turkey manner.
Instead, they recommend bringing down the coffee consumption gradually in order to avoid a severe state of depression due to the drop in caffeine and other antidepressants in coffee. Whether it is the caffeine or something else, coffee does seem to have at least a mild antidepressant effect. The caffeine in coffee may have mood-elevating actions through effects on neurotransmitters such as dopamine and acetylcholine. It is also possible that coffee drinking has social effects, such as increasing personal contacts and time spent socializing, that might reduce thoughts of suicide.
Reference: Kawachi, I., et al., "A prospective study of coffee drinking and suicide in women," Arch Intern Med (1996), 156(5):521-25 .
By: Randy Wilson