How might coffee and caffeine affect our mood and emotions?

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Dr. Géraldine Coppin, University of Geneva & Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, investigates.

Introduction 

While a large body of research has reviewed the physiological effects of coffee consumption, only few studies have considered the potential relationships between coffee consumption, mood and emotion. However, current research into this area suggests some interesting findings, not only within a healthy population, but also in subjects with depression: some examples are discussed below. Earlier this year I was invited to take part in an ISIC roundtable to discuss the science related to coffee, mood and emotion. Here, I provide an overview of the main topics of interest.

Caffeine and mood

Moods are relatively long-lasting affective states that are experienced without concurrent awareness of their origins1. Research has suggested that the repeated intake of 75mg of caffeine (the equivalent of approximately 1 cup of coffee) every 4 hours confirmed a pattern of sustained improvement of mood over the day2. Low to moderate doses of caffeine (around 2-5 cups of coffee per day) might improve hedonic tone (the degree of pleasantness or unpleasantness associated with a given state) and reduce anxiety3. In contrast, high doses could increase tension, nervousness, anxiety, and jitteriness. Extensive research on caffeine intake has been associated with a range of reversible physiological effects at both lower and higher levels of intake, suggesting that caffeine intake has no significant or lasting effect on physiological health4.

Caffeine and depression

Research suggests that caffeine can help limit depression and improve alertness and attention5. For example, a 2016 meta-analysis accounting for a total of 346,913 individuals and 8,146 cases of depression considered a dose-response analysis and saw a J-shaped curve, with the beneficial effect reported for up to approximately 300mg caffeine (the equivalent of approximately 4 cups of coffee) per day6. This research is worth considering within a wider context, as Europe is facing a public health challenge: every year, 1 out of 15 people suffer from major depression in Europe, and if anxiety and all forms of depression are included, nearly 4 out of 15 people are affected7.

Individual responses

Just as people’s emotions are based on their individual evaluation of a particular situation8, so too do people’s responses to caffeine vary based on a wide range of factors. For example, highly-fatigued subjects are more likely to experience larger subjective affective changes than non- or moderately-fatigued subjects2. Caffeine tends to have a more beneficial effect on habitual consumers’ moods (compared to non-consumers), but there are greater improvements in performance when drunk by non-consumers9. It also seems that mood is not only modulated by caffeine itself but also by the expectation of having consumed caffeine, which improves mood together with attention10.

Older adults seem to be more sensitive to the mood-enhancing effects of caffeine than younger individuals11. Mood effects are also influenced by the time of consumption, with the most prominent effects showing in the late morning11.

Coffee, mood and performance

A small pilot study reported that caffeinated coffee had a more robust positive effect on high-level mood and attention processes than decaffeinated coffee. Interestingly, the authors found that decaffeinated coffee could also improve mood and performance. This suggests that substances other than caffeine, such as chlorogenic acids, may also affect mood and performance12. However, this effect needs to be confirmed in a larger group of individuals.

Dr Coppin is a senior researcher and lecturer in affective psychology at the University of Geneva and at the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, where she studies the psychology and neurosciences of chemosensory perception and food intake. Her research includes the investigation of behavioural and neural correlates of food preferences and choices in healthy individuals as well as in clinical populations.

To read the full roundtable report, click here.

References

  1. Frijda N. H. (1993). Moods, emotion episodes, and emotions. Handbook of emotions, Lewis M., Haviland J.M., New York: Guilford Press: pp. 381-403.
  2. WHO, R63 Fact sheet on mental health, WHO Regional office for Europe. Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/215275/RC63-Fact-sheet-MNH-Eng.pdf?ua=1
  3. Quinlan P.T. et al. (2000) The acute physiological and mood effects of tea and coffee: the role of caffeine level.Pharmacol Biochem Behav, 66(1):19-28.
  4. Turnbull D. et al. (2016) Neurobehavioral hazard identification and characterization for caffeine. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol, 74:81-92.
  5. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2011) Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to caffeine and increased fat oxidation leading to a reduction in body fat mass (ID 735, 1484), increased energy expenditure leading to a reduction in body weight (ID 1487), increased alertness (ID 736, 1101, 1187, 1485, 1491, 2063, 2103) and increased attention (ID 736, 1485, 1491, 2375) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/20061. EFSA Journal, 9(4):2054.
  6. Grosso G. et al. (2016) Coffee, tea, caffeine and risk of depression: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of observational studies. Mol Nutr Food Res, 60(1):223-3.
  7. WHO, Data and Statistics Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders. Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/mental-health/data-and-statistics
  8. Scherer K.R. (2005) What are emotions? And how can they be measured? Soc Sci Info, 44(4): 695–729.
  9. Haskell C.F. et al. (2005) Cognitive and mood improvements of caffeine in habitual consumers and habitual non-consumers of caffeine. Psychopharmacol, 179:813-25.
  10. Dawkins L. et al. (2011) Expectation of having consumed caffeine can improve performance and mood. Appetite, 57:597-600.
  11. Smit H.J. and Rogers P.J. (2006) Effects of caffeine on mood. In Caffeine and the activation theory. Effects on health and behavior, Smith B.D., Gupta U., Gupta B.S., eds, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, pp. 229-82.
  12. Cropley V. et al. (2012) Does coffee enriched with chlorogenic acids improve mood and cognition after acute administration in healthy elderly? A pilot study. Psychopharmacol, 219(3):737-49.

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