What to Know About Coffee and Depression

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on April 21, 2023
4 min read

Caffeine is a stimulant found in food and beverages like coffee. Drinking a cup of caffeinated coffee gives you a boost of energy that can lift you out of a bad mood. It’s one reason why we consume over 600 million cups of coffee in the U.S. each day. 

Research into coffee and depression has found that people tend to experience less severe symptoms when they drink coffee. 

Studies of the effects of coffee on the body have found other positive benefits, like lowering the risk of getting cancer or having a stroke. Drinking coffee can also reduce our risk of developing dementia and Parkinson’s disease. The protective compounds found in coffee beans, along with the effects of caffeine, can improve our mental cognitive abilities and lower the potential of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Depression affects millions of people throughout the U.S. The severity of depression symptoms varies from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms of depression include having little interest in activities that used to bring you pleasure, difficulty concentrating, and a lack of energy. People diagnosed with clinical depression experience symptoms for at least two weeks. 

Researchers became curious about whether the stimulative properties found in coffee could relieve symptoms of depression. One published study showed a correlation between drinking more coffee and a reduction in the severity of depression symptoms. A separate study focused on middle-aged adults produced similar results.

It appears that drinking coffee can help people diagnosed with depression. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it should become a staple of your diet. While there are some health benefits to drinking coffee, there are also drawbacks to excess coffee consumption. 

Boosts of caffeine have become a staple among working adults and students looking for energy to push through with their jobs or studies. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers four regular-sized cups of coffee as generally safe. However, drinking coffee can produce side effects like restlessness, a rapid heartbeat, and insomnia.

Drinking more than four cups of coffee per day can increase these adverse effects. Some people report having symptoms like heightened anxiety, headaches, and agitation. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used to assess and diagnose mental disorders, calls it “coffee intoxication”.  

Because caffeine is a drug, people can develop a dependency. Trying to quit cold-turkey on your coffee consumption can produce symptoms like fatigue, pounding headaches, and a lack of mental clarity. That may offset the benefits of drinking coffee to help with depression.

The caffeine in coffee can interact negatively with medications taken to treat health issues like a thyroid disorder. It can also interact negatively with drugs prescribed for mental health issues. If you have diabetes, excessive coffee consumption can increase your blood sugar levels and make it harder to manage your insulin. 

Postmenopausal women who drink more than three cups of coffee per day may start losing bone in their spine because of a lack of calcium. Others who should exhibit caution regarding drinking coffee, even to help with depression, include those with acid reflux or high cholesterol.

Drinking coffee in moderation can provide some help with symptoms of depression. Try putting off your first cup of coffee until you’ve been awake for at least an hour. That gives your body time to produce more of a natural energy booster called cortisol. It’s better to put your coffee breaks off until you need them, like the middle of the morning or afternoon when your cortisol levels drop.

If you’re not a regular coffee drinker, try to reserve your coffee drinking for when your symptoms threaten to overwhelm you. Avoid drinking caffeine close to your bedtime so you’re able to get a good night’s sleep. 

Eliminating sweet beverages from your diet can help with depression. You can still incorporate coffee into your diet by not adding sugar. People who drink unsweetened coffee have been shown to feel less depressed than those who don’t drink coffee.

Another non-medical remedy you might want to try to help with depression is regular exercise. It helps elevate your mood and reduce the severity of your depression symptoms. You may find that you’re able to wean yourself off relying on coffee because of the serotonin and endorphin boost you get from increased physical activity. 

As always, your best bet is to speak with a doctor about your depression and talk with them about different treatment options.