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Can coffee aid in thwarting depression?

Can coffee aid in thwarting depression?

Depression is one of the most universal afflictions of mankind. At some period or other in one's lifetime, practically every individual goes through a low period of no ambition, loss of interest in the world, reluctance to wake up and go to work, difficulty to concentrate or similar manifestations. In fact, after every episode of stimulation or exhilaration, a relapse is inevitable, and sadness follows. An even more cause of sorrow is loss of something valuable, a job, a financial setback, a close friend, or a family member. In roughly 80% of the routine occurrences, recovery is inevitable and often aided by a cup of coffee. In fact, a well established precept holds: "If it is not relieved by a cup of brew it may require medical attention."

Depression is defined as an emotional state characterized by sadness, inactivity and self depreciation. It is not necessarily an illness, but is associated with many mental and physical disorders. Moderate to serious problems are probably the most common psychiatric complaints. It has no routine course and has no specific or identifiable outcome. It may be temporary or permanent, mild or severe, acute or chronic. There is no clear line of demarcation between normal and abnormal attacks. Reaction to causative events (if any) and interference with normal function determine whether the depression is pathological or sanitary.

As a medical problem, it has been well known and described for many centuries until fairly recently under the designation "melancholia." Described symptoms included: loss of interest in the world outside of self; loss of activity, loss of capacity to love; loss of self-respect culminating, in extreme instances, in delusional expectations of punishment and often suicidal impulses. A prominent feature is self-criticism by the individual's conscience. These attacks on self are often considered to be unconscious expressions of anger or hatred towards another person, a changed circumstance, or an inanimate object.

Mild to moderate problems generally require no treatment. In serious cases, up until this century, treatment included various forms of witchcraft or incarceration in an institution. During this century, three different therapies have begun to be developed, each with varying degrees of success. These are characterized as verbal. electrical, and/or chemical.

Verbal treatment of severe depression is officially named psychotherapy and is an outgrowth of Freudian psychology. It treats the secondary symptoms of this ailment by sympathetic listening to complaints and endeavoring to guide or explain the hostilities that often cause them. It is a prolonged treatment which affords the victim time to recover, but seldom cures.

Electrical effort consists of the application of an electric current to sections of the brain estimated to be involved in this difficulty. A severe, brutal therapy, it was widely used during the 50's, but fell into disrepute as it completely incapacitated many of its victims. It is now being revived at lower current densities, in the hope that a mild electro-shock may serve to rectify individuals of their low self-esteem. It is still reserved for sufferers who are seriously ill and do not respond to other measures.

Chemical therapy involves the use of a broad spectrum of various psycho-active medications which have been shown to be effective in specific areas of the brain. Historically, the first pure psycho-active agent discovered was caffeine. It was isolated early in the 1820's by extraction from tea, purified by recrystallization, and christened "THEINE." Several years later in another laboratory, it was isolated from coffee, purified similarly, and named "COFFEINE." It required a third laboratory several years later to demonstrate that the two crystals were identical, and the term "CAFFEINE" agreed upon to describe both. Until the discovery of adrenalin in 1899, it was the only psycho-active stimulant used by the medical profession in human emergencies.

In the past few years, medicinal chemists, seeking agents to treat mental illness, have discovered a number of active organic compounds and are exploring a new field that has potential to yield safer, more effective agents well into the foreseeable future. This field is the molecular biology of the brain, the study of the chemical transmitted to the brain by nerve cells that affect the receptors in the brain and their function.

The existence of this field has been known for some time, but now its features are becoming well enough explored so that concepts can be developed about their function, their relation to mental health and illness, and how they can be used for treatment. In view of these potential advances, it is quite appropriate that President Bush should designate the next 10 years as "the decade of the brain."

The simplest prescription agent used in the treatment of certain types of severe depression is Lithium. This is a simple salt, first cousin to ordinary salt, which acts by replacing part of the sodium in the body. At one time used as a salt substitute since it has an attractive, salty taste most similar to table salt, it was banned when found to be highly toxic when used indiscriminately. Now it is effective and legal only if used under medical supervision.

Some seriously depressed people suffer from an excess of enzyme that destroys the chemical messengers reporting sensation to the brain. Agents have been found that inhibit the action of this enzyme as well as those that affect the uptake of these sensations. These are slow-acting agents requiring long periods of administration, with often objectionable side effects. This causes many individuals to discontinue the medication before it becomes effective.

The medication of choice for these medical cases of depression in the last two or three years has become a green and white capsule named Prozac [R]. Several million people have taken it since its introduction in 1988, with remarkably successful results. Most have overcome their serious clinical depression and been restored to active fruitful lives. Relatively few have discontinued it because of undesirable side effects.

Two side effects warrant mention. One: Most people lose weight. This is often a desirable side effect. Experimental work is under way to discover whether it is safe and effective enough to permit its use without a prescription as a diet aid.

The other side effect is illustrated by a law suit against the manufacturer accusing the medication of generating suicidal impulses in a half dozen individuals. This is highly ironical.

Suicidal desires are characteristic of 15%-20% of people suffering from serious depression. Taking this medication reduces this group to less than 1%. In the court case which was given wide publicity when filed, the manufacturer has evidence that all six complainants suffered these self-destructive tendencies long before the medication was on the market.

Progress in the discovery of new and better psycho-active chemicals is inevitable. It is not inconceivable that an agent superior to caffeine, in psychological effect and safety, may be developed early in the next century. One approved by the FDA for general use, a synthetic beverage competitive to coffee and tea based on this stimulant may become a market factor to be reckoned with.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Lee, Samuel
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:column
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Words:1174
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