Health.com
September 26, 2011


By Julie Upton, RD

I'm not the same without my skinny latte. I can get through and push on, but my non-coffee days seem to drag. And the little annoyances from work and life become much bigger issues to cope with.

I've often wondered why I feel better when I'm on my normal coffee-and-tea routine, but I assumed it was due to the "me time" it provides me. However, new research about coffee, caffeine, and other bioactive compounds in our favorite caffeinated beverages suggests there's a lot behind the mental pick-me-up that caffeine provides.

Although there's no cure-all for depression, new research suggests caffeine may have a direct impact on the areas of the brain that improve mood.

The study, published today in the Archives of Internal Medicine by Harvard School of Public Health researchers, found that of more than 50,000 middle-aged women, those who drink the most coffee are less likely to suffer from clinical depression.

I get down in the dumps, feel blue, or can't see the light at the end of the tunnel on occasion, but I have never been diagnosed with depression, nor have I had to take antidepressants. I have several family members who have, however, and I know all too well how common depression is. One in every five women will experience depression at some point in her lifetime.

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The Archives study is the first large-scale study of women that looks at caffeine consumption and coffee drinking and its effects on our psyches. The lead researcher, Michel Lucas, PhD, RD, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, told me via email that the antidepressant association with coffee most likely stems from its caffeine content. "Caffeine consumption has several biological effects that should be taken into account," he says. "It has a well-known psychostimulant effects such as improved psychomotor performance, increased vigilance, elevated arousal (lesser somnolence and greater activation), and increased sensations of well-being and energy." Caffeine has also been shown to impact several neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for improving mood and outlook.

Numerous studies show that moderate coffee consumption (one to four cups a day) may provide heart-health and anti-cancer benefits, while too much can lead to the jitters, stomachaches, and other adverse effects.

Bottom line: If you drink coffee or tea and it makes you feel better, keep drinking it. If caffeine isn't currently part of your diet, no one would recommend that you start becoming a regular at Starbucks, as there are many other ways to impact those feel-good hormones in the brain. But for me, I now cherish my "mental health" coffee breaks more than ever!

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