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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Drink Coffee, Be Happy: Coffee drinkers are less likely to be depressed

New research out of Harvard Medical School shows coffee drinkers are less likely to be depressed than non-drinkers.


“Don’t talk to me till I’ve had my morning coffee.”

We’ve all heard that cliché before – but a new review conducted by Dr. Alan Leviton, Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, of existing, independent research, suggests that coffee doesn’t just give you a much-needed jolt in the morning — it may actually help you stave off clinical depression.

In the times we find ourselves living in, it’s no surprise that reports of anxiety and depression are on the rise. Between the constant barrage of negative news headlines and very real concerns over the health and well-being of our loved ones, the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t exactly lend itself to good cheer and contentment. National Mental Health Month couldn’t have come soon enough. 

But America’s favorite beverage could help with that. The results of Dr. Leviton’s independent research shows that coffee drinkers are less likely to be depressed than non-drinkers – and that the more coffee you drink, the less likely you are to be depressed, with the benefits peaking right around 13 oz. each day. That’s slightly more than your go-to Tall coffee from Starbucks.

Let thy morning coffee be thy medicine.  

The results don’t just lend credence to the “don’t talk to me till I’ve had my morning coffee” quip — they also carry profound implications for how we understand coffee’s role in our mental health.

According to Dr. Leviton, there are several factors that could be contributing to coffee’s mood-boosting effects. For example, coffee is known to be rich in antioxidants. Depressed people tend to have higher levels of stress-related oxidants in the body and are more likely than others to have diets low in antioxidants – attributable, at least in part, to lower coffee consumption. The antioxidants found in coffee may very well help offset that deficiency.

Coffee also has anti-inflammatory properties, some of which have been directly linked to improved mood. Depression and suicidal ideation are both correlated with higher levels of inflammation, research shows, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that some of the anti-depression effects of coffee are due to its anti-inflammation effects.

And then there’s caffeine. One might assume it’s the stimulation caffeine provides that brightens one’s mood, but a compound in the blood called adenosine is a more likely explanation. The more caffeine one consumes, the higher the concentration of adenosine in the blood. Depressed people tend to have lower concentrations of adenosine than non-depressed people – and one study found that the more severe the depression, the lower the concentration of adenosine. As if we needed another reason to skip the decaf (kidding, of course…).

Dr. Leviton says some of coffee’s mood-boosting effects are present right there in the mug, but other positive effects of coffee are only unlocked as coffee interacts with our bodies[W4] . You may have heard of probiotics before – they’re those little pearls you can buy at the pharmacy that promote a healthy gut microbiome. But there’s also prebiotics and postbiotics, which, like probiotics, provide health benefits once properly processed. The prebiotics found in brewed coffee, for example, are readily metabolized by organisms in the gut. This process transforms them into short chain fatty acids or other metabolites, including brain-penetrating neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA, and dopamine – the four major regulators of our mood.

Dr. Leviton’s study goes into much greater detail, and is a worthwhile read for the curious. His findings are welcome news for anyone seeking a little comfort in these uncertain, turbulent times — so burr up those beans, fluff those filters, and put a fresh pot on – trust the research, it’ll make you feel better.

Read Dr. Leviton’s research here.

Coffee: The Best Health Habit of All?

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What science can teach us about coffee.

By Dr. Bob Arnot, author, The Coffee Lover’s Bible


Coffee may be the greatest nutritional miracle in our world today. What other delicious beverage gives you such a bright, optimistic outlook while making a tremendous impact on your overall health, well-being, and longevity?

Coffee is also one of the greatest indulgences, a sensory experience that rivals the best wines. How else can you make such a robust improvement with such minimal effort. That wasn’t always the case.

I’ve written more than a dozen books on nutrition including two on Coffee. When I was chief medical correspondent for Dateline NBC, Today, NBC Nightly News, and CBS Evening News from the 1980s into the 2000s, and most recently as a contributor on Dr. Oz, we were always on the lookout for the next great nutrition story.

Ironically, we were alert to stories about why coffee was bad for you. At that time, coffee had a reputation for causing harm, and most people feared that it was unhealthy.

Why?

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