Mental health awareness is finally becoming widely accepted in the US, as 21% of adults in America struggle with a mental illness. Various mental health strategies exist, including holistic approaches that focus on lifestyle changes. A healthy diet and exercise, for example, can affect neuronal development and physiology, and protect the brain from neurological damage. Coffee, which can be part of a healthy diet, contains caffeine and polyphenolic compounds that may have beneficial effects on mental health. Although coffee is not an authorized treatment for mental health issues and should not replace professional treatment, coffee provides many mental health benefits for mood, cognition, and depression.
Studies from around the world have concluded that caffeine doses equivalent to about one average cup of coffee improves sustained attention, alertness, vigor, contentment, and mood, and significantly decreases lethargy and fatigue. One cup of coffee every 4 hours can result in sustained improvement of mood throughout the day, especially for those who are highly-fatigued. Older adults are more sensitive to caffeine’s enhancing effects to mood and cognitive performance than younger people. Caffiene’s mood effects are also influenced by the time of consumption – in late morning you’ll experience them the most. Interestingly, mood and attention are not only enhanced by caffeine itself, but also by the expectation of consuming caffeine.
Caffeine may help to relieve depressive symptoms or help to protect against depression, at doses up to about 300 mg caffeine (about 4 cups of coffee) per day. Studies across many continents have concluded that coffee consumption reduces depression. In an extreme example, a cohort study of Finnish men reported a 77% risk reduction for depression in heavy coffee drinkers (those who consumed over 813 mg of caffeine daily). This reduction in depression was limited to coffee and was not found with either tea or caffeine alone, pointing toward other compounds in coffee that could produce this effect, such as chlorogenic acids and polyphenols.
These are big claims for such a commonplace drink – so how does coffee do it?
How coffee affects the brain and improves mental health
Coffee reduces oxidation: people experiencing depression have elevated levels of oxidative-stress indicators in their blood. Coffee is the leading source of antioxidants in Americans’ diets.
Coffee fights inflammation: Coffee’s anti-inflammatory properties are associated with decreased depression. People with depression or suicidal ideation tend to have higher levels of inflammation-related proteins in their blood than people who are not depressed. These anti-inflammatory effects of coffee are similar to common medications used to treat depression; they decrease blood concentrations of some inflammation indicators, and their effects may be in part due to the drug’s anti-inflammatory properties.
Caffeine interacts with chemicals in the brain that affect mood:
Coffee improves gut health: Probiotics are microorganisms in your digestive system that improve gut health and decrease depression. People with depression are usually deficient in the fatty acids and neurotransmitters that probiotics produce. Components in coffee called “prebiotics” feed the probiotics, thus helping the probiotics create those vital compounds for your brain.
In conclusion, coffee gives you many reasons to smile :) Cheers!