Coffee is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world, with more than 80% of the world’s population drinking coffee daily. Despite reports encouraging people to reduce their coffee intake, multiple studies have reported on the health benefits of caffeine. Statistica reports that coffee remains one of the most popular beverages in the U.S., with 100 million Americans drinking coffee every day.
Americans 60 years old and up typically drink three times as many cups of coffee as those ages 18-24. That’s good news for baby boomers, as coffee has been associated with increased cognitive performance and lower risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Drinking moderate amounts of caffeine – up to four cups per day – can give you a sense of happiness, energy, arousal and alertness, and can make you feel more social. In addition, coffee is rich in phytochemicals that research has shown to be associated with positive health effects.
Suicide and suicidal ideation have a range of possible causes, including mental illness, substance abuse and in particular depression. It is important to note that depression is a risk factor for suicide, but not all depressed people have suicidal thoughts or behaviors. The American Association for Suicide Prevention reported an ongoing increase in death by suicide in every state, with 47,173 Americans 10 years old and up dead by suicide, making it the 10th leading cause of death. To put these figures in perspective, 129 Americans die by suicide daily, and 1.4 million attempted suicide in 2017.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have reported on the 50% decrease in suicide risk for men and women who drink moderate amounts – two to four cups – of coffee per day. A recent study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders has indicated that coffee drinkers demonstrated a reduction in depressive symptoms and suicidal behavior and thoughts in women.
The consensus among researchers is that the chemical properties of caffeine are functioning like an antidepressant medication. The antidepressant properties of caffeine are thought to function due to its ability to mimic the neurochemical adenosine, which modulates the levels of dopamine and glutamate in the brain, leading to an increase in adrenaline and serotonin. Increases in dopamine and serotonin in the brain have mood-enhancing effects.
Further research is needed to understand the physiological or psychological aspects that contribute to the reduction in depressive symptoms in women but not men. The findings are not prescriptive, and individuals feeling depressed should seek medical assistance, and not simply drink more coffee. In fact, a large study in Finland concluded that drinking more than eight to nine cups of coffee per day increases the risk of suicide. Finland is home to the world’s heaviest coffee drinkers, and it has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
Enjoy a cup of joe and meet friends at the same time for an even greater mood and focus boost.
Rita Hitching is a local researcher and teacher who writes on teen brain development. She aims to help teens understand themselves by using the latest neuroscience data to explain how the teen body and brain develop and publishes the explanations on her website, teenbrain.info.