Happiness is a warm mug of coffee

I wouldn’t call myself a coffee advocate. But I’m not one of those doctors who think you should never drink it, either.

True, some of my patients use it as a stimulant to self-medicate an underlying case of adrenal fatigue. And in a situation like this, chronic caffeine use will only make you worse, not better.

For those patients, I come out rather strongly against coffee drinking. But for everyone else? Let’s put it this way–coffee’s nowhere near the villain that some self-professed health gurus make it out to be.

In fact, it has quite a few benefits. And I always like to tell you about them. Because unlike some other dietary habits, I’d rather you didn’t feel guilty about drinking coffee. (Sugar and simple carbs are another story.)

So here’s the latest news on coffee: According to a team of Harvard scientists, drinking two to three cups of coffee every day may cut your suicide risk by almost half.

I have to say, this study is impressive based on its scope alone. Researchers used data from 43,599 men enrolled in Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, 73,820 women from their famous Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), and 91,005 women from the NHS II study.

Food frequency questionnaires documented subjects’ coffee consumption (both caffeinated and decaffeinated) every four years for two full decades.

In the case of caffeinated coffee, at least, results showed that subject who drank two to three cups a day benefited from a 45 percent lower suicide risk. (That’s compared to people who only drank about one cup a week or less.)

This study’s authors think caffeine doses around 400 mg a day– which is about what you’ll typically find in a few cups of coffee–may help to combat depression by boosting activity of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

But there are many factors that could account for this result. And it’s tricky to make ironclad assumptions based on observation–and especially patient recall.

So I’m certainly not saying that an extra cup of coffee is somehow the cure for clinical depression. Or that people who don’t drink it at all should start guzzling down pots of the stuff.

I just don’t think you need to worry about your coffee-drinking habit one way or the other–at least, not if it’s limited to two or three cups in the morning.

That’s hardly an abusive amount. For most people, it’s not likely to cause side effects like jitteriness, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, or headaches.

It also shouldn’t wreak havoc on your hormones or your adrenal glands. And it may actually protect you from certain chronic conditions.

I can’t say the same about sugar. Which, of course, means that a Grande Mocha Frappuccino from Starbucks is still strictly off limits.

“Coffee, caffeine, and risk of completed suicide: Results from three prospective cohorts of American adults.” World J Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Jul 2.