What effect does caffeine have on depression?


There is inconclusive evidence as to what effect does caffeine have on depression, whether it relieves or worsens depression symptoms. Caffeine is a stimulant present in many foods and beverages, principally coffee and tea. Moderate caffeine intake has an energetic and awakening effect, improving alertness and reducing fatigue by stimulating the nervous system. Let us cast an eye on the various possible effects of caffeine on people suffering from depression.

Likely Benefits of Intake of Caffeine in Depression

Scientific studies that investigated the effects of coffee on depression have tended to show that coffee does have a beneficial effect on the symptoms of depression and reduces the incidence of depression. Not only that, but it could also reduce the incidence of suicide.

For instance, an analysis of 11 observational studies done over a 35-year period showed that caffeine considerably reduced the risk of depression. Another analysis of 12 studies showed that caffeine, particularly when taken in the form of coffee, protected against depression; tea helped to a lesser extent than coffee. Curiously, a 2019 analysis of data collected in over 80,000 people showed that caffeine reduced suicidal ideation in women but not in men (Strachan, 2019).

One mechanism by which caffeine helps in depression is that coffee helps make the brain’s main motivational chemical dopamine more effective. By binding to adenosine receptors in the brain, caffeine increases the amount of dopamine that binds to dopamine receptors in the forebrain that coordinates decision-making, motivation and reward perception, among many other things. Two typical symptoms of depression are anhedonia (the loss of interest in things once pleasurable) and a lack of motivation. If coffee helps increase motivation and the ability to feel pleasure by binding to adenosine receptors, this might explain its long-term effect on depressive disorder (Brogaard, 2017).

Why Tea is Not as Effective as Coffee in Depression

The reason coffee is better than tea at relieving depression symptoms could be that it contains chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, and caffeic acid. These acids help in depression by reducing the inflammation associated with the nerve cells in people with depression. An exception to this rule is green tea, which is found to be as effective as coffee when it comes to depression relief because it contains antioxidants and folate that help protect against depression (Strachan, 2019).

Likely Drawbacks of Intake of Caffeine in Depression

Contrary to the above studies that show positive effects of caffeine on depression, there are other studies that show that caffeine can have a negative effect on people with depression.

Caffeine intake, especially in excess, can impact your mood negatively by leading to the following side effects (Strachan, 2019):

  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Nervousness
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Increased BP
  • Palpitations
  • Tremors
  • Sleeplessness

A 2016 study (Jin, et al., 2016) found that caffeine intake was positively associated with the severity of depression and the severity of insomnia among adolescents in Korea. The group with a higher caffeine intake tended to have higher alcohol consumption, lower academic achievement and a higher score of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and stress. When influential factors were adjusted, the severity of depression and anxiety increased with statistical significance.

Added to this are the withdrawal effects one can experience when one stops taking caffeine after its regular intake over a period of time. The withdrawal effects can overlap with those of depression and anxiety.

Concluding Advice on Caffeine Intake Vis-a-Vis Risk of Depression

Consume caffeine in moderation. Consuming a total of 400 mg of caffeine per day is generally considered safe for most people, whatever the sources of that 400 mg of caffeine (Strachan, 2019). If you have depression, consider limiting or avoiding caffeine to see if it improves your mood. To lessen the withdrawal effects, reduce gradually the amount of caffeinated beverages you drink (Hall-Flavin, 2018).


Brogaard, B., 2017. How Does Coffee Help Alleviate Depression?. [Online]
Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-superhuman-mind/201709/how-does-coffee-help-alleviate-depression
[Accessed 18 Sep 2019].

Hall-Flavin, D., 2018. Does caffeine make depression worse?. [Online]
Available at: https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/does-caffeine-make-depression-worse-2/
[Accessed 18 Sep 2019].

Jin, M.-J.et al., 2016. The Relationship of Caffeine Intake with Depression, Anxiety, Stress, and Sleep in Korean Adolescents. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4826990/
[Accessed 18 Sep 2019].

Strachan, G., 2019. What effect does caffeine have on depression?. [Online]
Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/313988.php
[Accessed 18 Sep 2019].


What effect does caffeine have on depression?
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What effect does caffeine have on depression?
There is inconclusive evidence as to what effect does caffeine have on depression. Consume caffeine in moderation - 400 mg/day is generally considered safe.
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