Coffee Prevents Suicide?

I have a confession to make. I am addicted to coffee–completely addicted. If I’m sad, I treat myself with coffee. If I’m productive, I reward myself with coffee. If I’m not productive, I motivate myself with coffee. If I could replace my mattress stuffing with coffee beans without my roommates knowing just so I could always be surrounded by the smell, I would do it tomorrow. Too far, Sarah. Too far…

Anyway, I would love to see scientific research that justifies my lack of self control. According to this article, women who drink 2-3 cups of coffee per day are less likely to commit suicide (1). Let’s actually look at the study.

In the 1990s and 2000s, all-female nurses and all-male doctors took detailed surveys about their caffeinated coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and chocolate consumption. Of the approximately 220,000  participants, 50,000 of them were male doctors. Even though they were only one fourth of the group, they contributed 60% of the suicides! And, yes, more caffeinated coffee correlated with less suicides (2). So, I think we can say that male doctors in the 1990s tend to commit less suicide as they increased their caffeinated coffee intake. However, since we all know that privileged, young men are emotional train wrecks, we should look at the superior gender to delve deeper into the science.

Strong Women

Combined studies on female nurses was four times bigger than the male doctor study and only contributed less than half of the suicides. Because we’re survivors! The first female study showed a trend similar to the male doctor study, but the second group of nurses showed something funny. To help with this, I’ve made a very complex chart.

Male Doctors

Coffee >1 cup /week 2-6 cups/week 1 cup/day 2-3 cups/day 4 or > 4 cups per day
Suicide Rate  Baseline  Low Rate  Low Rate Low Rate  Very Low Rate

Female Nurses 1

Coffee >1 cup /week 2-6 cups/week 1 cup/day 2-3 cups/day 4 or > 4 cups per day
Suicide Rate  Baseline  Very Low Rate Very Low Rate Very, Very Low Rate  Very, Very Low Rate

Female Nurses 2

Coffee >1 cup /week 2-6 cups/week 1 cup/day 2-3 cups/day 4 or > 4 cups per day
Suicide Rate  Baseline  Very High Rate  Very High Rate  Very Low Rate  Low Rate

Super Complex Table of Suicides. The rate of suicide was compared to the baseline of less than one cup per week, and the rates represent the risk of suicide compared to baseline.

As you can see from my very detailed table,  the risk of committing suicide increased when nurses increased their weekly coffee intake from one cup per week to 2-6 cups per week in the second study. It stayed that high in the group that drank one cup per day, and then plummeted in the group that drank 2-3 cups per day. Basically, if you skip that after lunch pick-me-up, you’re going to stand up from the conference table, throw off your heels, and dive out the window!  No, no, no. I’m just kidding.

The Roast

So, my beautiful readers, should you drink more coffee? The authors recommended 2-3 cups per day, but with some conditions.

  1. If someone has an anxiety disorder, caffeine can worsen their symptoms. Since patients with an anxiety disorder might self-regulate, they may be less likely to drink coffee. Oh, wait, is an anxiety disorder a risk factor for suicide…. Hmmm…
  2. Caffeine can also trigger symptoms of other psychiatric disorders, so drop that Jo until you’ve talked to your doctor if you have a history of mental illness.
  3. In a surprising turn-of-events, the majority of the participants were white. Was anyone else expecting that? Anyone?
  4. Opinion: If you’re an American female nurse in the 1980s or a male doctor in the 1990s, then this study applies mostly to you. Gender roles, medical education, and work-life balance has change greatly since these surveys were taken. Can we really compare a  male doctor in the 1990s who worked 90 hour week with a  modern day athlete, artist or stay-at-home parent?
  5. Only drink 2-3 cups of coffee per day if you’re already drinking coffee at that amount. The authors realize that humans tend to adjust their consumption of caffeine according to their emotional state, so there’s no reason to increase your intake as a preventative measure.
  6. Don’t drink more than 8 cups of coffee per day, because that increases your suicide risk.

So, what? Are the authors useless?

NO! Wow! Calm it down, miss sassy! This is actually a great start to looking at the long-term effects of caffeine on mental illness and maybe provide insight to the protective factors for suicide, that is what prevents suicide. Coffee may help prevent suicide, but we can’t make that claim quite yet. We need to look at more populations and do experimental studies, which is change a human’s environment to see how they react, not just observational studies, which just looks at how humans live right now.

To be honest, the medical community is really struggling to comprehend mental illness. The pills are mediocre at best. Therapy depends on the psychiatrist’s experience and the patient’s  cooperation. We’re pathetic. We kind of need a win. In this case, we know the biochemical effects of caffeine, so the next step is to activate or depress each signaling pathway in animal models and see what happens. This paper is a stepping stone, not a final decision.

Oh, and did I mention that those over-4-cup-a-day drinkers also tended to be single, smoking alcoholics? I’d definitely be less depressed if I was addicted to everything, but what do I know? According to the 80s, only men can be doctors…

Take home messages:

  • Drink coffee when you’re tired, but not too much. Gee, thanks captain, obvious!
  • Don’t go to medical school; become a nurse instead. I wish I had gotten that message three years ago.
  • If you have a history of mental illness, coffee may trigger your symptoms, so be careful!

 

Citations

  1. Article
  2. Research Study
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