Caffeine May Make Depression Worse

Caffeine is often thought of as an upper, not a downer. And it's true that the substance, found in large amounts in coffee as well as tea, soda, sports gels and other foods, is a stimulant. People who eat or drink caffeine often experience a perk-up in mood and become more productive. It definitely can lend an edge to athletes, who often have it before an event or race. But there's also a dark side to caffeine-its link to depression.

The relationship between caffeine and depression isn't exactly clear, say researchers at the Mayo Clinic. While the substance doesn't directly cause depression, it can apparently worsen depression in people who are sensitive to it. There are a few possible reasons for this, including:

  • Caffeine "crash." While caffeine initially gives you a mood boost, after a few hours this effect wears off and you may actually experience the opposite-a depressed, despondent state of mind.
  • Blood-sugar issues. Caffeine can affect your blood-sugar levels, and low blood sugar is associated with low energy levels and a depressed feeling.
  • Lack of sleep. Caffeine is well known for keeping people up at night. If you can't fall asleep due to that 8 pm cup of coffee, you'll likely be very tired and irritable in the morning and more prone to depression.

If you're in the habit of having caffeine regularly, don't kick it cold turkey. Caffeine withdrawal comes with a host of symptoms including headaches, fatigue, crankiness and nervousness. You need to gradually cut down on the amount of caffeine you consume until you can manage your moods easily. Try having one fewer cup of coffee a day until you're at a comfortable level. Or have that last cup of coffee at 4 pm, not 8 pm. You can switch to decaffeinated coffee, but be aware that almost all decaf coffee contains some caffeine, although not as much as regular coffee. If you need the comfort of a hot cup of something, try substituting decaf herbal tea at one of your daily java breaks. And many sodas are now sold without caffeine, so you don't necessarily have to give up this fizzy treat.