More than a mood booster: Coffee’s role in supporting mental health


By William “Bill” Murray, NCA President & CEO


May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, an important time to recognize that nearly 20% of Americans are believed to experience mental illness. Offering care, empathy, and support to ourselves, and others – and openly discussing mental health issues – are all important for our wellbeing.

There’s no substitute for seeking help from professional healthcare providers and finding support from family and friends, but there are small steps we can take to support our mental health. For example, there is a growing body of literature that recognizes the positive effects exercise has on anxiety, stress, and depression. And yes, your daily cup of coffee can play a mood-boosting role in the short term.

The 66% of Americans who drink coffee each day probably already appreciate the mood boosting benefits of our favorite brew. In fact, evidence shows that coffee’s mental health benefits go beyond that warm and fuzzy first-cup feeling.

Studies have found that drinking coffee is associated with up to ⅓ lower risk of depression. An analysis of multiple third party, independent scientific studies conducted by former NCA Science Advisor and Harvard University neurologist Alan Leviton found that not only is drinking coffee associated with decreased depression risk, but that the greatest mental health benefits come from drinking at least two cups of coffee per day. 

Of almost 10,000 adults studied in the fifth Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, those who drank at least 2 cups of coffee per day experienced a 32% lower prevalence of self-reported depression than people who did not drink coffee.

In a study of 14,000 university students in Spain who continue to be followed, those who drank at least four cups of coffee per day were more than 20% less likely to be diagnosed with clinically-significant depression.

While further research is necessary to determine the exact relationship between mental health and the more than 1,000 natural compounds found in coffee, the positive impact it has on mental health may be related to certain anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and microbiome-promoting properties – properties that are also associated with coffee drinkers’ significantly reduced risk of developing certain cancers and chronic diseases.

Scientists think that some of coffee’s natural compounds called phenols and melanoidins may have “prebiotic” effects – that is, they may help healthy gut bacteria produce fatty acids and neurotransmitters that benefit mental health.

Whatever your moments of self-care look like, take time to check in on your own mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, please know you are not alone. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HELLO to 741741.

In the meantime, call a friend, connect with family, find some quiet time away from all the devices, and enjoy a simple cup of coffee – which, it turns out, is more “amazing” than “simple.” After all, while you care about coffee – coffee cares for you, too. What other beverage does that?

NCA: We Serve Coffee.

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