Review on March 16, 2009
While that first cup of coffee in the morning is generally used as a wake up tool for the bleary-eyed, surprisingly it may also help to reduce anxiety. However it's not the caffeine contained in the little brown beans that can be so soothing, it's their delicious aroma. According to a recent South Korean study, the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans has a direct effect on feelings of anxiety
The South Korean research was carried out on sleep-deprived rats that experienced a high level of anxiety and distress as a result of this deprivation. The rats that were allowed to inhale the aromatic vapors of freshly roasted coffee beans experienced a decrease in stress and anxiety. It appears that the aroma of coffee beans acts on a genetic level, activating those genes that produce antioxidant-rich proteins.
These antioxidants (heterocycle compounds), however, are different from the ones contained within the bean itself (polyphenols), and are beneficial only when drinking the coffee. It seems that by savoring the coffee, both by smelling and tasting it, it's possible to receive a twofold punch of helpful antioxidant power, decreasing anxiety and fighting fatigue all at once.
The researchers speculated that this may be a natural defense mechanism of the body and can help explain why people are able to use coffee to stay awake all night. The sleep deprivation, which leads to anxiety, is alleviated by the smell of the coffee itself, while it is the compounds contained in the liquid coffee that allow one to stay up all night in the first place. Coffee may hold its own system of check and balances in the fight against anxiety.
While further investigation is needed to determine the direct impact of these antioxidants produced in coffee aromas and how they spur the anti-anxiety processes in the body, this is certainly another reason to enjoy one of the world's most popular beverages. It also helps explain why even those people who dislike the taste of coffee are captivated by the smell, as it is a natural anxiety fighter.