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Does Caffeine Help Depression?

By Barb Nefer ; Updated August 14, 2017

Depression is on track to becoming the most common world health problem by the year 2020, according to PBS, with 8 percent of American adults suffering from major depression annually. Caffeine is readily available in popular beverages, and its physical and mental effects run counter to some of depression's most common symptoms.

Caffeine Definition

Caffeine is a drug that can be produced artificially or found naturally in certain seeds and plant leaves, according to the Nemours Teens Health website. The substance is commonly found in foods and drinks like chocolate, tea, coffee, energy drinks, colas and other sodas. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulator that can make you alert and sometimes improve your mood, with its effects lasting for up to 6 hours.

Depression Definition

Depression is a mental illness characterized by sadness, hopelessness, irritability, lack of energy, sleep problems, restlessness, increased or decreased appetite and problems concentrating, according to the Help Guide mental health website. This problem is treated in a variety of ways, such as support groups, therapy and medication, depending on its severity. Depression medications are prescribed by physicians, but you can self-medicate with caffeine because of its mood elevating effects and easy availability in common beverages. Self-medication with caffeine or other drugs is potentially dangerous, according to PubMed Health, because depression raises your risk of developing drug and alcohol addiction.

Caffeine Benefits

Studies have shown that caffeine causes effects that directly counteract depression symptoms. Depression is often characterized by impaired concentration and a low mood. A 2009 study of 118 young adults at the Cardiff University School of Psychology in the United Kingdom showed that those who chewed gum containing caffeine were more attentive to tasks and had a better mood than those who were given a placebo. The amount of caffeine in the gum was less than 40 milligrams.

Caffeine Warnings

Caffeine may worsen depression because of its physical effects, a report from Kansas State University warns. Both depression and caffeine cause problems with falling and staying asleep. Lack of proper rest worsens your depression symptoms, and a 2004 study of sleep-deprived volunteers at the National University of Ireland department of psychology showed that consuming caffeine while fatigued makes your mood deteriorate further. Caffeine causes withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop drinking it after consuming it regularly, including exacerbating depression. Cutting out caffeine abruptly also causes depression-like problems, like irritability, and may trigger fatigue and headaches even if you don't have pre-existing mental issues.

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