July 26, 2013
Can Coffee Stave Off Suicide?
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The health benefits of coffee have long been heralded as studies have found that the magical little brown bean can work to prevent strokes, heart disease and more. If anyone needed any more of a reason to pour a cup of java, the Harvard School of Public Health has released a new study which found that men and women who drink several cups of coffee a day are 50 percent less likely to commit suicide. Decaffeinated coffee may not be enough to prevent death, however.
The research team found that people who drink two to four cups of the full octane stuff have half the risk of committing suicide compared to those who drink decaf. Caffeine is known to act as an antidepressant and trigger neurochemicals in the brain that make us feel good.
Though coffee drinkers reduce their risk of committing suicide, the researchers say the study should not be seen as a cue for depressed adults to start brewing multiple pots. The complete study was published online July 2 in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry.
"Unlike previous investigations, we were able to assess association of consumption of caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages, and we identify caffeine as the most likely candidate of any putative protective effect of coffee," explained lead researcher Michel Lucas, a research fellow in the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The researchers compiled their data from previous large studies of coffee drinking Americans. Lucas and team discovered that it was the caffeine itself and not simply roasted bean which is responsible for reducing the risk of suicide.
Caffeine has been found to act as a mild antidepressant, and when the body takes in this chemical it ramps up the production of certain feel-good neurotransmitters such as dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. This study and many others point out that the body's reaction to caffeine could explain why coffee drinkers are also less likely to be diagnosed with depression.
The Harvard researchers studied data compiled from three studies, the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, the Nurses Health Study and the Nurses Health Study II. There were significantly more women involved in these studies - over 164,000 - than men, who only represented 43,599 of the volunteers.
As a part of these previous studies, men and women were sent questionnaires every four years. Here the volunteers listed their caffeine consumption and from what sources they received this caffeine, either from chocolate, coffee, soda or tea. The majority of the volunteers, around 80 percent, listed coffee as their primary source for caffeine. Of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who participated in the three studies, only 277 died from suicide. They were less likely to drink as much coffee as the other participants.
The Harvard researchers also noted there seemed to be little difference between those who drink four or more cups of coffee per day and those who only drank two to three. Previous research has shown, however, that the optional intake to prevent suicide is between four and six cups per day. They cite a Finnish study which found those who took more than eight or nine cups per day were actually more likely to commit suicide than those who drank less.