Coffee, Longevity, Depression – and Neurogenesis

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by Nils Osmar – 6/13/2022 – Medical disclaimer

There’s a well-established correlation between drinking coffee and living longer.  Correlation in itself of course doesn’t prove causation. But a strong correlation suggests that there may be a connection, which can then be clarified with other studies.

All-cause mortality

The association in this case is striking. As an article published by the Harvard School of Public Health puts it:

“People who drink up to eight cups of coffee per day may slightly lower their risk of early death compared with non-drinkers, according to a large new study. And it doesn’t appear to matter if the coffee is caffeinated or decaf, brewed or instant….

The study analyzed data from about half a million Britons and found that the more coffee people drank, the lower their risk of dying during the 10-year study period.

Drinking eight or more cups per day was linked with 14% lower risk compared with not drinking any coffee.”

An article in Healthline adds:

Several studies show that regular coffee intake is linked to a lower risk of dying from various serious diseases…. The sweet spot appeared to be a coffee intake of 4–5 cups per day.

At this quantity, men and women had a 12% and 16 % reduced risk of early death, respectively. … Even moderate coffee consumption of just one cup per day was associated with a 5–6% lowered risk of early death — showing that even a little bit is enough to have an effect.

Looking at particular causes of death, researchers found that coffee drinkers were less likely to die from infections, injuries, accidents, respiratory disease, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Other more recent studies support these findings. Coffee intake seems to be consistently linked to a lower risk of early death…”

Not just the caffeine

It’s important to reiterate that the benefits of coffee are not only associated with the caffeine in it. In fact, the longevity-related effects exist when people drink decaffeinated coffee. According to an article called “Caffeinated or not, coffee linked with longer life” published by the Harvard School of Public Health,

“There are many potential beneficial compounds in coffee,” said nutrition expert Edward Giovannucci, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a July 2, 2018 WBUR article. Added Giovannucci, who was not involved in the study, “People think of caffeine, but it’s likely that some of the most beneficial compounds are not the caffeine.”

Coffee and brain health

Coffee is a “superfood” for both anti-aging and life extension.

According to a study called “Neuroprotective and Neurodegenerative Aspects of Coffee and Its Active Ingredients in View of Scientific Literature“:

  • Coffee and its components have several neuroprotective properties that lower the risk of cognitive decline and other neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Many epidemiological studies in this literature review have shown coffee to reduce the risk of developing dementia, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • It may also have a positive impact on the disease course of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and depression.
  • The optimal benefits achieved from coffee in these pathologies rely on higher daily doses.
  • Most of its effects are attributed to caffeine by the antagonism of adenosine receptors in the central nervous system; however, other coffee constituents like chlorogenic acids have also shown much promise in therapeutic value.

Coffee and depression

Coffee may also, in some cases, be effective in staving off depression. The effect may be partly due to the caffeine in the drink.  But a cup of coffee actually contains dozens of bioactive compounds, including chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, and caffeic acid. Depression appears to be related to the inflammation of nerve cells in the brain; all three acids have been found to reduce this inflammation.

Studies have found that caffeine itself, isolated from coffee, may possibly reduce the incidence of depression. One meta-analysis published in 2016 looked at the results of eleven observational studies and found that caffeine contributed to a significant decrease in a person’s risk of depression.

Some effects apply equally to both sexes; others may be gender specific. A 2019 study called “Relationship between daily coffee intake and suicidal ideation” examined data from over 80,000 people. It concluded that drinking one to four cups of coffee per day reduced the risk of suicidal thoughts or ideas in women, though not in men, and stated that:

Regardless of psychiatric problems such as depression or sleep problems, regular and moderate caffeine intake likely reduces suicide risk as well as depression in women.

What about tea?

Tea’s correlations with longevity are somewhat similar. According to a 2020 Science Daily article:

“Habitual tea consumption was associated with more healthy years of life and longer life expectancy. For example, the analyses estimated that 50-year-old habitual tea drinkers would develop coronary heart disease and stroke 1.41 years later and live 1.26 years longer than those who never or seldom drank tea.”

Since many types of tea contain caffeine, does it also reduce thoughts of suicide? Some studies have found that tea is less effective than coffee at reducing depression. But some compounds found in green tea, including folate, do appear to reduce depressive symptoms in some circumstances.

This study concluded that among elderly Japanese subjects,

“a more frequent consumption of green tea was associated with a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms in the community-dwelling older population.”

Does tea consumption correlate, like coffee, with lower rates of depression? According to a study called Green Tea Consumption and Depressive Symptoms among Japanese Workers, when considering green tea, the answer is no. Some types of tea have benefits for brain health and neurogenesis, but a broad analysis of the data show no benefit for those experiencing symptoms of depression from drinking green tea.

Exceptions to the rule

Some studies suggest that the overconsumption of coffee or caffeine can disrupt some neurotransmitters, and may possibly trigger anxiety, headaches, and feelings of restlessness. It can also contribute to sleeplessness, which can have a negative effect on the mood. 

A 2014 review in the journal Rivista di Psichiatria postied that caffeine consumption could (sometimes) make depression worse in people who already have mood disorders.

It’s important to remember that coffee is not just “liquid caffeine.” It contains dozens of bioactive compounds which, together and separately, have an effect on our bodies and brains. When caffeine is given by itself, separate from the other beneficial compounds in coffee, some studies suggest that very large doses may somewhat suppress neurogenesis. According to a study called Caffeine alters proliferation of neuronal precursors in the adult hippocampus,

“… neurons induced in response to supraphysiological levels of caffeine have a lower survival rate than control cells; increased proliferation does not yield an increase in long-term neurogenesis”

My experiences

I can’t comment in my own case on life extension; I won’t know for a few decades whether drinking coffee, and the other things I’m doing, have had an impact on my lifespan.

But speaking anecdotally. I have found my mood is consistently better if I include caffeinated coffee as a regular part of my diet.

I went through a period, years ago, when I was dealing with depression which had been triggered by some high-stress events in my life. Making changes in my diet and exercise routines helped a little, but I would always slide back into it some time during the day.

I dealt with feeling that way for two years, then found, to my surprise, that brewing up a pot of high quality organic coffee and drinking it twice a day had a striking effect in alleviating it. The depression, which had been constant in my the backdrop of my life for months, vanished for a few hours after I drank a cup of coffee. The effect was striking: the depression was there, then suddenly was gone for a period of time.

I experimented and found that drinking two cups every morning had the effect of lifting me out of it and — it felt like — actually retraining my brain not to be depressed. It wasn’t the only thing that I did, but it was a key thing in moving me completely out of the depression after drinking coffee every morning for a few weeks. So it became a regular part of my regimen.

With that said, I also like taking breaks from drinking coffee. It’s beneficial but is one of many beneficial beverages associated with better mood and longevity. I’m currently drinking coffee on my workout days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), and drinking a high quality organic white tea (a younger-leaf version of green tea) on the other days.


Photo credit: Image by 5688709 from Pixabay

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