Does caffeine have therapeutic value in treating depression?

If the long lines in cafes are to be believed, coffee is an important commodity in many countries. And why not, considering how a lot of people consider it a crucial part of their morning routine? There have been studies in favor of and against coffee, but what many researchers agree on is that the beverage – its caffeine content, actually – has benefits for people suffering from depression.

It isn’t just a small study that says this though. Several studies in a number of countries, all involving thousands of participants, declare coffee to be effective against depression. Some even found that the higher the intake of this often bitter beverage, the lesser the risk of a person committing suicide.

Now despite how long depression has been a known disease, experts have not uncovered the exact reason behind it. One theory is that it is caused by the inflammation of the brain. This inflammation is the brain’s natural immune response to the presence of disease-causing pathogens. However, too much of it for too long can have negative consequences, among which is depression.

Coffee contains various anti-inflammatory compounds, including chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, caffeic acid, nicotinic acid, trigonelline, quinolinic acid, tannic acid, and pyrogallic acid. These chemicals reduce inflammation in the brain, attenuating the symptoms of depression as a result.

Caffeine and the brain’s neurotransmitters

To understand another explanation of the possible effects of caffeine on the brain, it’s important to keep in mind that this substance is technically a psychoactive drug. It affects a person’s mood, behavior, and overall brain function.

There is another theory on the origin of depression, one that attributes it to an imbalance in the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Most patients with depression are noted to have low levels of serotonin, but others show reduced levels of dopamine.

Patients with low levels of serotonin often show signs of anxiety. Those who have low levels of dopamine exhibit lethargy and a lack of motivation. Interestingly, people in the latter category tend to self-medicate using caffeine as the substance is noted for its ability to boost dopamine levels and improve mood.

Conversely, while the intake of caffeine temporarily raises serotonin levels, long-term intake of the chemical actually depletes serotonin in the body. In people with serotonin-based depression, this could lead to worsened symptoms. (Related: Caffeine May Prevent and Help Reverse Alzheimer’s Disease.)

When is caffeine not recommended?

While caffeine benefits people with depression, its beneficial effects are not for everyone. Here is a list of people who may not experience any benefit from drinking coffee:

  • Those with anxiety and psychiatric disorders – As mentioned above, caffeine can worsen anxiety. It may also have negative effects on people with psychiatric conditions, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. As a matter of fact, some studies have found that getting schizophrenic patients to quit caffeine helped improve their symptoms. Caffeine also inhibits neurotransmitters involved in relaxation, which puts people with anxiety at greater risk of suffering from their symptoms as a result of stress.
  • Those with insomnia – Caffeine also blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter that governs feelings of tiredness and sleepiness. This can worsen the symptoms of people with insomnia who, because of their condition, already have trouble falling asleep.
  • Those taking antidepressants – Caffeine reacts negatively with more than 90 types of medications. It enhances the effects of certain antidepressant drugs, while the medicines can extend the effects of caffeine. This can result in greater bouts of anxiety, as well as seizures and serotonin syndrome, a life-threatening condition characterized by fever, irregular heartbeat, dilated pupils, sweating, and even unconsciousness.

Learn more about the effects of caffeine on the brain at

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