Rarely will you see the words “drink more coffee” on a list of techniques for reducing stress.
But new research suggests a healthy caffeine habit could actually help you stay calm in some harrowing situations.
The study, conducted by scientists from Portugal, the US, and Brazil, is still pretty preliminary, and since it was done in mice we can’t quite say how it will pan out in people. But it does contain some surprising findings.
For their paper, the researchers looked at the effects of caffeine on mice subjected to different stressors, such as cold baths and having their cages tilted. For three weeks, while one group of mice was given caffeine in their drinking water, the other simply drank regular water. Then they were subjected to the stressors.
Results showed that mice who drank plain water exhibited stress-induced changes in their brains and behaviour, such as acting helpless and performing worse on memory tests. But the mice who drank caffeine didn’t show any of these changes. The researchers can’t say for sure why that is, but they hypothesize that it has something to do with caffeine blocking certain receptors from causing a stress response (stress responses in humans can include bad moods and depression).
Scientists have long suspected that caffeine boosts mood. Several studies, in fact, have found a link between coffee consumption and a reduced risk of depression (as well as a lower risk of suicide). Other researchers have said, however, that they weren’t sure if it was the caffeine specifically or the rituals associated with consuming it — say, greeting your favourite barista or perusing the news while you sip your latte.
This study suggests that it’s the caffeine itself that helps us cope with stress and puts us in a better mood.
While this research adds to a growing body of evidence that caffeine can be good for you, it’s hardly reason to start chugging energy drinks or drinking multiple grande lattes every day. Too much caffeine can have serious negative health effects, from insomnia to liver damage. Generally, it’s best not to exceed 400 milligrams of caffeine (or about four cups of coffee) per day.
And again, keep in mind that this study was conducted on mice. Future studies are necessary to see if these findings are generalizable to all of us stressed-out humans.
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