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Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017 Aug;61(8). doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201600910. Epub 2017 May 8.

Low dose of caffeine enhances the efficacy of antidepressants in major depressive disorder and the underlying neural substrates.

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Center for Translational Neuroscience & China Minority Medicine and Nutrition, Minzu University of China, Beijing, China.
Beijing Neurosurgical Institute & Pain Department, Beijing Tiantan Hospital, Capital Medical University, Beijing, China.
Experimental Center for Medicine, China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Beijing, China.
State Key Lab of Bioactive Substance and Function of Natural Medicines, Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences & Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, China.



Caffeine is one of the most frequently used psychoactive substances ingested mainly via beverage or food products. Major depressive disorder is a serious and devastating psychiatric disorder. Emerging evidence indicates that caffeine enhances the antidepressant-like activity of common antidepressant drugs in rodents. However, whether joint administration of low dose of caffeine enhances the antidepressant actions in depressed patients remains unclear.


A total of 95 male inpatients were assigned to three groups and were asked to take either caffeine (60, 120 mg) or placebo (soymilk powder) daily for 4 wk on the basis of their current antidepressant medications. Results showed that chronic supplementation with low dose of caffeine (60 mg) produced rapid antidepressant action by reduction of depressive scores. Furthermore, low dose of caffeine improved cognitive performance in depressed patients. However, caffeine did not affect sleep as measured by overnight polysomnography. Moreover, chronic caffeine consumption elicited inhibition of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation by normalization of salivary cortisol induced by Trier social stress test.


These findings indicated the potential benefits of further implications of supplementary administration of caffeine to reverse the development of depression and enhance the outcome of antidepressants treatment in major depressive disorder.


Antidepressant medications; Caffeine; Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activation; Neural substrates; Polysomnography

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