Is There a Link Between Caffeine Use and Depression?
Depression is an epidemic in our modern-day culture. Over 26% of Americans alone have been diagnosed with depression, and that doesn’t even begin to include people who never seek treatment or those in other cultures and countries. Many physicians, psychologists, and alternative medicine practitioners suggest removing or adding certain items in the diet to help control symptoms of depression and anxiety. One of these items sanctioned for removal is caffeine, and for pretty obvious reasons that most of us do not really consider or notice until the effects become negative.
Symptoms of Depression
Let’s look at the symptoms of depression before moving onto what caffeine does to the body and how it affects these symptoms.
(1) Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
(2) Continual feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness
(3) Irritability and/or restlessness
(5) Inability to enjoy activities or hobbies once enjoyable
(6) Excessive fatigue or tiredness
(7) Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or decline in memory
(8) Insomnia or sleeping too much
(9) Loss of appetite or overeating
(10) Suicidal thoughts, attempts, or frequent thoughts about death
Caffeine Cycle and Chemistry
It’s important to understand how caffeine affects the body’s chemistry and overall health in order to understand its relationship to depression and other mood disorders. The molecular structure of caffeine is built to fool the chemicals in your brain that tell you you’re tired. It has the opposite effect of adenosine, the chemical in the brain that helps regulate sleep cycles and tells your body when it’s time to shut down. Proper sleep cycles are critical to the body’s health because our brains and bodies detoxify and heal during sleep. Caffeine negatively impacts sleep cycles by essentially disrupting this chemical in the brain.
Caffeine also causes a rise in adrenaline, the chemical that enacts the fight-or-flight response. This causes a major rise and fall in brain chemistry and can lead to anxiety, jitteriness, and nervousness if over-stimulated. Think about the “crash and burn” effect you get when the caffeine starts to wear off. The adrenaline levels fall below normal levels and you begin to feel symptoms of fatigue, irritability, inability to focus, and headache. Most of these, if you’ll notice above, are symptoms of depression.
Studies have shown a link between caffeine’s affect on the body and brain chemistry and worsened depressive symptoms; however, whether or not caffeine actually causes depression is still uncertain. Caffeine causes sleep disturbances, which negatively affect mood and overall health. If you drink a lot of caffeine on a daily basis and stop abruptly, withdrawal symptoms will worsen already-existent depressive symptoms. If you experience any symptoms of or have been diagnosed with depression, you should work on removing caffeine from your diet so as not to exacerbate symptoms.