Caffeine, Mood & Emotion

The terms ‘mood’ and ‘emotion’ are often used interchangeably in colloquial conversation. However, in scientific terms, mood and emotion have different definitions. A mood is a relatively long-lasting affective state; while an emotion is of shorter duration. It has been suggested that emotions can be defined by episodes of synchronised change, with components such as bodily reactions (such as blushing), and motor expressions.

In Europe, mental health and mental disorders (including depression and anxiety) pose a significant 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 affected.

Research suggests that diet and exercise can affect neuronal development and physiology and protect the brain from neurological illnesses or injuries. Of note, coffee, cocoa and tea are being actively investigated because they contain polyphenolic compounds that may have beneficial effects on mental health, including behavior, mood, depression and cognition.

Caffeine and mood

A review by A. Nehlig suggests that repeated administration of 75mg of caffeine (the equivalent of one cup of coffee) every 4 hours can result in a pattern of sustained improvement of mood over the day. A dose-related improvement in subjective measures of calmness and interest were found after consuming caffeine, suggesting that mood improvement may depend on baseline arousal. Highly-fatigued subjects may be more likely to experience larger subjective mood changes than non- or moderately-fatigued subjects.

Studies have reviewed the impact of other intakes of caffeine: in one such study, a single 60mg caffeine dose elicited a clear enhancement of sustained attention and alertness, contentment and mood. A further study concluded that an intake of 100mg caffeine significantly decreased lethargy/fatigue and increased vigor. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that a cause and effect relationship between improved alertness and attention and 75mg caffeine (approximately the amount in a regular cup of coffee) had been established1.

Older adults seem to be more sensitive to the mood-enhancing effects of caffeine than younger individuals. Mood effects are also influenced by the time of consumption, with the most prominent effects showing in the late morning. In fact, one study has suggested that caffeine could potentially be used as a nutrition supplement for older adults, enhancing mood and improving cognitive performance in their daily living tasks. However, further research is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

Research also suggests that 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-consumers. 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 attention.

The effect of caffeine in stimulating self-reported alertness and mood was not thought to persist for extended periods of time, with the effects peaking during the first 4 hours after ingestion. Research in office workers suggests that consuming caffeine with ornithine (an amino acid involved in protein metabolism, found in foods such as dairy products and meat, and which can be synthesized in the body) in the morning had a positive effect on self-reported mood (especially reducing “feelings of fatigue”, and increasing “willingness to work”, and “vigor”) in the late afternoon, suggesting that ornithine potentiated the physiological action of caffeine.

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