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Coffee and Depression: The Unexpected Connection

By Skye Sherman  •   March 25, 2024
•    Medically Reviewed By Dr. Christine Bishara - Jul 5, 2024

Photo Credit: by Chevanon Photography, Pexels.com
Photo Credit: by Chevanon Photography, Pexels.com

Does coffee cause depression? Oddly enough, it depends on the person. You might assume that your morning coffee is one of the most reliable joys you have in life, but it may shock you to learn that some individuals have a different reaction to coffee. In fact, the thought of a morning without coffee may sound unbearable, and depress you at the mere thought of it!

Most adults around the world drink coffee regularly, especially in America. Whether you drink one or three cups a day, it’s important to realize that coffee can dramatically impact your physical and mental health, for better or worse.

Is your morning coffee making you depressed? In this article, we’ll consider if coffee can cause depression or if caffeine works as an antidepressant. The bottom line is that you should be aware of the power coffee has to potentially interact with some medications (although the extent does vary by drug).

Can coffee cause depression? Or, if you already have depression, how does coffee affect your depression? We’ll discuss it in detail below.

How is coffee connected to depression?

You may have heard of cortisol, the stress hormone. It should come as no surprise that caffeine affects cortisol levels, which can have a major impact on depression and anxiety, and your overall feelings of wellbeing.

Moreover, while caffeinated drinks can energize you temporarily, they might actually worsen depression, insomnia, and anxiety over time, especially if they also contain added sugars.

According to MindBodyGreen, “Researchers believe it’s because caffeine worsens blood sugar control and when combined with sugar, causes blood sugar volatility that really stresses out the brain.”

It’s also vital to note that caffeine can impact your sleep, which is a major factor in depression. MindBodyGreen continues, “Large amounts of caffeine can also negatively affect circadian rhythm and sleep cycles, which can result in feelings of depression.”

Can coffee cure my depression?

If you have experienced depression, you probably know there’s no easy one-size-fits-all cure. But for some people, coffee consumption is linked to the improved depression outcomes.

After all, it does have a lot of antioxidants, and claims about its health benefits range from lowered risk of diabetes to less risk of Parkinson’s disease, gallstones, and even colon cancer. And you can ask any coffee drinker about the mood and energy-enhancing effects of coffee.

One study published by the National Library of Medicine found, “Participants who drank at least four cups of coffee per day showed a significantly lower risk of depression than participants who drank less than one cup of coffee per day.”

Another study published by Harvard suggests that drinking coffee may reduce the risk of depression in women: “The researchers … found the risk of depression to be 20% lower among women who drank four or more cups of caffeinated coffee than those who drank little or none.”

Another piece of research that links coffee to a 50% reduction in suicide risk is also worth mentioning. An article published in the Harvard Gazette states, “Drinking several cups of coffee daily appears to reduce the risk of suicide in men and women by about 50 percent … the risk of suicide for adults who drank two to four cups of caffeinated coffee per day was about half that of those who drank decaffeinated coffee or very little or no coffee.”

Why does this happen? According to Dr. Judith Orloff, it seems that “Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and acts as an antidepressant by elevating serotonin and dopamine levels … Some experience the mood boost more than others. Unknowingly, many people self-medicate depression with caffeine.”

Of course, correlation is not evidence of causation, but the connections are certainly fascinating, and worth exploring with further research. The world would do well with more studies that help more people suffering from depression find relief.

And of course, if increasing your coffee intake to four cups a day sounds like a perfect plan right about now, it’s also worth mentioning that high caffeine consumption is not without health risks of its own. We’ll discuss that in further detail below.

Can coffee counteract prescription drugs?

Did you know that coffee may interfere with some prescription drugs you are taking?

The New York Times reports, “Most people rarely consider side effects beyond restlessness or trouble falling asleep at night. But coffee and espresso can have other consequences in people taking certain drugs, by either blocking absorption or enhancing their effects. In many cases, the interactions are caused by caffeine. But other compounds in coffee may also play a role. Studies show that more than a dozen medications — as varied as antidepressants, estrogen and thyroid and osteoporosis drugs — can be affected by coffee consumption.”

But that’s not all: some prescription drugs can actually enhance the effects of coffee and other caffeinated drinks and make it last in your body longer. This includes some antidepressants, antibiotics, and birth control pills.

The New York Times continues, “A number of these drugs … block an enzyme known as CYP1A2, which helps metabolize caffeine. As a result, caffeine may persist in the body for several hours longer than normal. One study showed, for example, that women taking birth control pills held caffeine in their systems four hours longer than women who were not on the pill.”

Were you warned about your prescription drug’s potential interactions with caffeine before you started taking it? If not, you’re not alone!

Tips: How much coffee should you drink?

Finding the perfect balance of how much coffee to consume each day can vary greatly from person to person. Some people are particularly sensitive to caffeine or may have other contraindications, whereas some people may reduce their risk of depression by drinking four cups a day.

Research findings published in an article titled A Very Specific Amount Of Coffee Is Linked With A Lower Risk Of Depression & Anxiety states: “participants who consumed around three cups of coffee daily were associated with the least risk of depression and anxiety, but those who drank over six cups experienced a ‘significantly heightened risk.’”

In other words, it seems like there’s a sweet spot to coffee consumption. The more, the better? Not necessarily. Keep in mind that heightened coffee intake can lead to adverse health effects, as anyone who has ever consumed too much can tell you! Common side effects might be sleep disturbances, headaches, fast heartbeat, frequent urination, raised blood pressure (heart palpitations, anyone?) and irritability, especially when you haven’t had your coffee yet.

Also keep in mind that the type of coffee you’re drinking matters. Unsweetened black coffee will have different effects from instant coffee, and coffee that is sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners will probably do you more harm than good; what you add to your coffee, like milk or plant milk, will also have health implications one way or another.

When considering how much caffeine is safe to consume, it’s important to discuss with your doctor. Only a qualified medical professional will be able to advise you on the best practices around your particular situation, the drugs you have been prescribed, and the coffee you hope to drink.



The purpose of the above content is to raise awareness only and does not advocate treatment or diagnosis. This information should not be substituted for your physician's consultation and it should not indicate that use of the drug is safe and suitable for you or your (pet). Seek professional medical advice and treatment if you have any questions or concerns.