Caffeine and mental health

 The consumption of caffeine is so usual that its effects on mental health are underestimated. Due to its availability and acceptability, people take caffeine at their own will, in their desired amounts and frequencies depending on the perceived benefits and side effects it causes to them. Most people usually associate caffeine with coffee.

However, it’s a chemical substance found in a number of beverages including coffee, tea, chocolate, cola soft drinks, energy drinks, as well as in some medication such as cold, cough and pain drugs.

Caffeine is world’s most popular drug. Caffeine has a very strong relation to mental health in a variety of ways.


Psychological Effects of Caffeine

The psychological effects of caffeine are two way. Low amounts of caffeine cause stimulation which is usually desirable. High doses on the other hand can produce undesirable effects.

  • Generally, caffeine enhances alertness, elevates mood and decreases fatigue. Normal caffeine intake improves a person’s performance on tasks that require alertness. In older population, high consumption is linked to better performance.

Caffeine and mental health

  • Consumption of caffeine may be higher in psychiatric patients than in other people. Use of caffeine has been associated to specific disorders including anxiety, schizophrenia, sleeping and eating disorders.

Caffeine, anxiety and depression

Excessive caffeine consumption causes a person to experience symptoms of anxiety and they have a basis in overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system. Symptoms of anxiety are in fact distinguishable. Clinically, caffeine may be used in the precipitation or maintenance of anxiety disorders. Sensitivity to caffeine is heightened in individuals with social phobia and panic disorders and use of caffeine can trigger panic attacks in these people. Anxiety symptoms also reduce with caffeine withdrawal or reduction and persons suffering panic attacks can benefit from a limitation of their use. Caffeine induced anxiety cannot be treated unless caffeine use is withdrawn. Interestingly, it is suggested that, people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), a form of anxiety benefit from caffeine intake. On the contrary, the risk for depression subsides with increased consumption of caffeine.

Sleep disorders

  • Caffeine is well known to cause insomnia. It minimizes slow wave sleep during early phase of sleep cycle. Caffeine enhances wakefulness episodes and high amounts of caffeine taken in the dusk can increase the time taken to fall asleep. The use of caffeine rich medication in the elderly increases the risk of sleeping difficulties.

Eating disorders                                                                                                                                       

People with eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia often take large quantities of caffeine containing drinks in the belief that caffeine enhances metabolic rate and subdues appetite. Excessive consumption of caffeine may cause osteoporosis, which has a high occurrence in anorexia. High consumption of caffeine is linked to high frequency of binge eating, compared with low intake. In addition, people with high intake of caffeine are also more likely to use diet pills or laxatives and have higher levels of anxiety.

Caffeine and ADHD

This is an anxiety disorder common in young people characterized by inattention, hyperactivity or both symptoms. ADHD (Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder) is treated using stimulants and caffeine is one of the most used mild stimulants for people with this condition.

Caffeine and suicide incidences

High consumption of coffee is associated with decreased suicide rates. However, excessive consumption increases the risk of suicide. There is also a connection between increased use of caffeine and nicotine use with increased risk of suicide.  

Contrary to the common belief, caffeine is not that addictive. If consumed in moderation 2-3 cups a day, it becomes useful to the body as it enhances mental alertness. However, routine intake of caffeine may lead to adverse effects if a person skips taking it. These include effects such as headache, muscle pain, difficulty in concentrating as well as fatigue which fade away with time. In general, caffeine is less harmful to mental health if taken in the right doses, but excessive can cause mental problems.  

Hence, the next time you think about taking a cup of coffee, do it in moderation, in the right state of mind and also at the right time.



Stress and Depression

stressLife is full of demands, hustles, deadlines and other frustrations such as job loss, divorce, and loss of a loved one among several occurrences. For some people, stress has become a commonplace and as a way of life. Stress may not necessarily be bad, small instances of stress are necessary in motivating a person to work under stress to beat deadlines or do the best they can in their activities. However, if stress is persistent, it may be dangerous to health as it leads to depression. Stress can be understood as a normal physical response to incidents that make a person feel threatened or destabilises one’s balance. In this article we will focus on the chronic stress rather than the helpful stress that we experience in our routine activities.

 Causes of Stress

overloadThe situations that bring about stress are known as stressors. Most often, we tend to think that stressors are negative such as a stressful relationship. However, stressors can be anything that places high demands on someone or requires you to adjust, causing stress. Factors that cause stress vary from individual to individual, although some are universal.

Stress can result from various factors. These factors are can be classified into two categories; internal and external stress causing factors.

  • The most common internal stress causing factors include inability to accept uncertainty, negative self-talk, pessimism, perfectionism, lack of assertiveness and unrealistic expectations.
  • The most common external stress causing factors entail major changes, relationship difficulties, children and family, work, being too busy and financial problems.

Long term exposure to stress can cause serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly all the systems in the body.  It can result to increased blood pressure, increase the risk of stroke and heart attack, supress the immune system, contribute to infertility, and increase the aging process. In the end, long term stress leads to depression and anxiety.

 The Stress-Depression Relation

Stress whether chronic like the loss of a loved one or acute like loss of a job or a divorce can result to major depression in vulnerable persons. Both forms of stress can cause overactivity of the stress response mechanism of the body. Sustained or chronic stress particularly causes elevation of hormones like the cortisol (the stressor hormone) and reduced serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine, which is associated with depression. When these chemical mechanisms are working in a normal way, they regulate biological processes such as appetite, energy; sleep and sex drive and allow expression of normal moods and emotions.

When the stress response fails to close down and restart after a stressful situation is over, it can result to depression in susceptible people. It is difficult for a person to be stress free in a real life situation. Loss of any type is particularly a major risk factor for depression. Grieving is considered a normal and a healthy response towards a loss. However, if grieving becomes persistent or goes on for a long time, it can trigger a depression. A chronic illness including depression itself is regarded a chronic stressor.

 Stress and Depression: Lifestyle Factors

The association between stress and depression is a complex one. People undergoing stress usually abandon healthy lifestyles and engage in unhealthy ways. These people may get into smoking, excessive or irresponsible drinking, gambling, casual sex, drug abuse and neglect exercising among other unhealthy behaviour. These behaviours in turn lead to chronic stress and increase the risk of major depression. These behaviours can leave a person in a vicious cycle and they may not recover easily. Stress is linked to all the six major causes of death in the world including heart disease, accidents, cancer, suicide, lung ailments, and also cirrhosis of the liver.

 How to Reduce Stress

The following lifestyle changes can be useful in reducing stress levels and enhance resilience, hence reducing the risk of depression. They include;

  • Exercise: Experts propose moderate exercises of about half an hour a day for about five days each week. Exercise produces chemicals in the body that enhance ones mood and stimulate hormones and neurotransmitters including endorphins that can help alleviate stress.sharma-obesity-exercise
  • Strong supportive relationships: Isolation is a high risk factor for depression while community buffers individuals from the effects of risk. Negative relationships are also dangerous.
  • Sleep: getting enough sleep is important in preventing stress as people juggle between work and family.
  • Eating well and drinking alcohol in moderation: people feeling stress may engage in heavy drinking as alcohol is a known mood suppressor. This may result to serious effects. As such, a person should ensure that they eat well and take alcohol in moderation.
  • Yoga, meditation, psychotherapy, prayer: according to studies, these practices can help in retraining brain circuits. They have a positive influence on the emotional brain circuits.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy: therapy of this nature helps people in reframing events in a more positive way. Negative attitudes and the tendency to worry can heighten the effects of stress.

Ultimately, stress is part of human life and cannot be avoided entirely. The most important thing is to manage these stresses and prevent the occurrence of depression. Professional help can be sought in situation of depression to avoid risk.naturopathy-alternative-medicine-illness-natural-e1354876502320

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download As one gets older, one may experience memory loss, which is normal as age, tiredness, stress or certain illness and medication can affect memory. But if this memory loss is persistent, affecting ones routine activities, it may be dementia. Dementia is the loss of mental ability characterised by loss of functions such as memory, thinking and reasoning that is serious to an extent of disorienting a person’s daily functioning. Dementia is not a disease by itself; it is a collection of symptoms that result from various diseases or conditions. Like most mental disorders, dementia can be characterised by changes in behaviour, mood and personality. In cases where the cause of dementia is treatable, dementia can be managed or cured, for instance dementia resulting from substance abuse, hormone imbalance. In some cases though, a person may appear as having dementia, although this may be symptoms of severe depression. In this case the condition is known as pseudo-dementia/false dementia which is fortunately readily curable. Nevertheless, serious dementia cannot be treated.

 The Science behind Dementia

Dementia occurs when parts of the human brain that are associated with learning, memory, language, decision making, understanding, mental agility and judgement are affected by one or more of a wide spectrum of diseases or infections causing the condition.

 Causes of Dementia

Dementia can be caused by a variety of diseases. The most common cause of the condition is Alzheimer’s disease which causes up to 60 per cent of dementias. The other causes of dementia are not common. However, several conditions are known to cause dementia, they include;

Untreatable Causes of Dementia  

  • Diseases that lead to degeneration or loss of nerve cells in the brain like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases
  • Diseases that affect blood vessels including stroke, which leads to a condition known as multi-infarct dementia
  • Infections that affect the spinal cord and the brain for example AIDS dementia complex
  • Head injury resulting from severe injury or prolonged smaller injuries for instance those acquired while boxing

 Treatable Causes of Dementia

Nutritional insufficiencies such as folate and vitamin B12 deficienciesshutterstock_4059385_nurse_practice_sm

  • Toxic reactions including drug and alcohol abuse
  • Some types of hydrocephalus (an accumulation of fluid in the brain)

Symptoms of Dementia

  • People with dementia can become unconcerned with their routine activities, and have issues controlling their emotions. They also have problems with socializing and aspects of their personality may change.
  • People with dementia also lose empathy i.e. understanding and compassion. They hallucinate (seeing or hearing things that others do not) or much worse, make false statements or claims.
  • Victims of dementia may also encounter difficulties in organizing and planning as dementia affects mental ability.
  • Maintaining their independence is also a problem and as such people with dementia usually require some assistance from family and friends especially with decision making.

Other symptoms may include increased difficulties with routine activities and tasks that call for planning and concentration, depression, periods of mental confusion, changes in personality and moods, difficulty saying the correct words among other coordination problems.

 Diagnosis and Treatment of Dementia

Though many forms of dementias cannot be cured, early detection can help in devising ways to minimize its effect and maintain mental function. Not only does early diagnosis assist dementia patients to get the right treatment and support, but it also helps those close to them to prepare and plan for their care. A person with dementia can lead an active and fulfilled life if given the right treatment and necessary support.

If you or a close relative or a friend are becoming increasingly forgetful, especially if one is above 65 years, it is advisable to seek medical opinion regarding early signs of dementia. This may help in avoiding serious dementia by managing it as early as possible.



StressAnxiety is a normal emotion in the human life. We usually feel nervous or anxious when we are faced with a problem or an unusual situation such as when taking a test, attending an interview, a problem at work or when making a crucial decision.  Anxiety can be useful when it keeps you cautious of danger. However, for some individuals, anxiety affects normal life including work, sleep, socialization, or school. This form of anxiety interferes with relationships and general life enjoyment and with time can lead to serious health issues. These serious anxieties are called anxiety disorders.

 Types of Anxiety Disorders

The most common types of anxiety disorders include the following:

  • Panic disorders: this is a situation where a person has feelings of terror that strike panicabruptly and recurrently without a warning. It is characterised by sweating, palpitations (irregular heartbeats) and feeling of chocking effect that makes a person think that they are having a heart attack.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): this is a condition arising from a traumatic event such as loss of a loved one, a natural calamity, sexual or physical assault. PTSD victims have lasting terrifying thoughts and memories of the occurrence and are emotionally distressed.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): people with OCD are overwhelmed by constant fears or thoughts that lead them to carry out particular routines or rituals. These disturbing thoughts are referred to as obsessions while the rituals are known as compulsions. An example is a person with unusual fear of germs and disinfects their hands wherever they become into contact with anybody.
  • Social anxiety disorder: this entails irresistible worry and self-consciousness regarding routine social situations. Worry normally centres on a fear of facing judgment by others or acting in a way that may lead to embarrassment or ridicule.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: this is unnecessary, unrealistic tension and worry that occurs with little or no apparent reason to trigger the anxiety.
  • Specific phobias: this is a serious fear of a certain situation or object for instance snakes, flying, water, diving, or heights. This fear may make a person avoid routine situations that may present these sources of phobia.
  • Substance induced anxiety disorder: anxiety resulting from substance abuse.
  • Separation anxiety disorder: mostly a childhood disorder characterised by fear of separation from parents or care takers.

Causes of Anxiety Disorders

There is no known cause of anxiety disorder, but just like other forms of mental disorders, anxiety disorders do not originate from character flaw, personal weakness or poor upbringing. They are caused by various factors including changes in the brain as well as environmental pressure. Anxiety disorders can result from chemical imbalances in the brain or can be inherited from a parent or can be triggered by certain environment factors such as trauma.

 Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder

Symptoms of anxiety vary from disorder to disorder. Nevertheless, anxiety exhibits general symptoms of feeling of panic, fear and tension, nightmares, sleeping problems, uncontrollable obsessive thoughts, dry mouth, palpitations, muscle tension, recurrent thoughts of traumatic events, ritualistic behaviours, nausea, dizziness, sweating, trembling, rapid breathing, weakness or tiredness among other unusually behaviour.

 Diagnosis and Treatment

Psychiatrists or psychologists are mental health professionals who carry out an evaluation through interview and assessment tools. They look at the intensity, a persons, history, length of symptoms, a person’s attitude and behaviour. When they establish the type of anxiety disorder, they recommend a treatment

Depending on the type of anxiety disorder, the following treatment may be used or a combination of the following:

  • Medication: these include drugs given to minimize symptoms of anxiety disorders such as antidepressants and anxiety reducing medications.
  • Psychotherapy: this is a form of counselling which deals with emotional responses to mental illness. Here mental experts help people through talking to patients to understand and deal with their disorder.
  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy: Patients often participate in this kind of psychotherapy in which the individual learns to identify and change thought patterns and behaviours that result to upsetting feelings.
  • Dietary and lifestyle changes and relaxation therapy: healthy eating and freeavoidance of alcohol and drugs and regular exercises including relaxation therapy can help people to reduce and recover from anxiety disorders.


Even though anxiety disorders are unpreventable, their symptoms can be controlled or reduced through:

  • Reducing or stopping consumption of caffeine enriched products including coffee, cola, tea, chocolate and energy drinks.
  • Seeking support and counselling from professionals after a disturbing or traumatic incident.
  • Inquire from a doctor or pharmacist before taking any over the counter prescriptions as some of them contain chemicals that can heighten symptoms of anxiety.