Caffeine and Your Hormones: The Basics Every Woman Should Know
Type the search term “How does caffeine (or coffee) affect your hormones” into Google and you will get a host of opinions on this topic. In fact, there are 8,490,000 results. Seems like a lot to wade though, right?
However, I think the most important point to understand concerning coffee and hormones is that it’s about the caffeine, not the coffee.
Which means coffee, tea, or energy drinks can affect your hormones.
It’s amazing how the last two in that list don’t get as much airways but energy drinks are a $19.2 billion dollar business and 61% of millennials reportedly drink one daily (1). Which is why I am going to focus on what is associated with potentially causing hormone disruption, caffeine, and not just say coffee, because it’s not about the coffee, it’s about the caffeine.
If you listen to Episode 28 of Critical Conversations, I discuss that the ultimate trump for wading through all the pros/cons is finding what works for you. There is no greater super power while wading through all the noise than doing your own investigating and asking, “How does this make me feel?”
If you start doing something new or change something in your routine, this question helps you truly know if something is working or not.
There are mixed opinions on coffee, but many experts believe that moderate coffee consumption has more in its favor than against it. That being said, it’s important for you to weigh pros and cons for yourself, keeping in mind how you personally react to drinking it.
Can caffeine affect your hormones? Yes, it appears so.
However, what also plays into how much caffeine affects you is your everyday lifestyle.
Are you stressed?
Do you never sleep?
Do you have down time to relax?
Do you not eat the recommended serving of fruits and vegetables daily?
Do you drink alcohol every day or very consistently?
The more you do not have down time to calm your stress response, plus the more that you have behaviors and habits that drag your body down, the more caffeine will start to affect your body.
I hate to break it to you, but I don’t think many women back in the 1800s were saying “Wow, coffee gives me anxiety, heart palpitations, and irritability.” Otherwise, culturally we would not have passed this ritual on. Our ancestors were pretty smart people. They figured out that soaking nuts, seeds, and grains released more nutrients! So if coffee made them feel terrible, believe me, there would be tales about it!
I say this because many foods/drinks that we have been consuming for centuries are starting to be vilified heavily all the while ignoring the ROOT issue, answering “WHAT IS YOUR LIFESTYLE LIKE?”
Are you go, go, go with no down time?
Do you drink alcohol to unwind every night from your stress?
Stress + daily alcohol intake or weekend over-consumption (that has become common, but is not normal or healthy) will make tolerating coffee a problem.
Because of all these other root issues, coffee/caffeine becomes just another way to stress your body out, on top of all the other ways we are stressing our body daily. But those choices are not being vilified.
Coffee is a sacred messenger for telling your body that things need to change in all areas of your life, not just with your coffee intake.
With that said, I want to break down some of the theories for how caffeine can affect your hormones that you should know about it! All while maintaining common sense for what these studies are actually telling us.
Because to date there is not one long-term study that has actually looked to find statistically significant correlations between coffee over-consumption and the unwinding of hormones/adrenals. They do not exist, so if you are following someone pretending they do, unfollow.
However, we can create educated guesses based on the data we do have, BUT these speculations then become narrowed down to how you feel and if you notice any positive changes when working on changing your relationship with caffeine.
HOW MUCH CAFFEINE ARE YOU DRINKING OR EATING?
First, it’s important to analyze and figure out how much caffeine you are consuming in a day. The current recommendation for the average healthy adult is up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day. However, this data is not based on updated research in association with slow caffeine metabolizers vs fast caffeine metabolizers. Fast metabolizers can have up to 4 ups of coffee or 400mg daily with what mostly appears no problems and may even give protective health affects. However, that is not the case for slow metabalizers.
o 40 percent of people are fast metabolizers, with two copies of the fast variant gene.
o 45 percent have one slow gene and one fast copy, so they are middle-of-the-road caffeine metabolizers.
o 15 percent carry two copies of the slow variant gene and are slow metabolizers.
You might already suspect what you are, however, not tolerating caffeine can be due to many factors and just because you don’t feel good with caffeine, does not mean you are slow metabolzer. The only way to know for sure is to get a genetic test done, such as this one.
Having this information can be empowering if used correctly. It also reveals why labeling things as “good vs “bad” is becoming outdated for our society. What is “bad” for one, might be “good” for another. I talk about this all the time in association with diets and food rules. New research is revealing all the time the problem with this limited thinking.
The below chart from www.coffeeandhealth.org is a great place to start to determine how much caffeine you are actually drinking.
Next, figure out how much caffeine is your cup if ordering from a standard coffee shop daily. Look up your standard coffee shop order and see what the caffeine amount is. For example, a venti coffee at Starbucks is 410mg of caffeine (a latte is 150mg) and that is not counting other caffeine sources you may be having daily. So while you are looking at that cup as “one” serving of coffee, it is not and is probably giving you more caffeine then you realized daily.
In order to truly know the answer of how coffee impacts your hormones, you must allow three months for your hormones to regulate to know if reducing/avoiding has any impact. This is not something that happens with just three days of skipping or not drinking coffee : )
Caffeine & Sleep:
Because caffeine can cause a rise in cortisol. It is especially important to make sure you are not having caffeine six hours before bed. If you are a slow metabolizer, you need at least 11-12 hours for the caffeine to clear.
So keep this in mind, especially if falling and staying asleep is an issue for you. For many of my clients creating a cut-off of no coffee after 11am to 12pm does wonders. Creating healthy boundaries allows things to stay in your life without having to go to an extreme. Obviously, there is always the outlier that will have to give up all coffee unless it’s Swiss Water Processed decaf because it just impacts them too much.
The research on if caffeine contributes to increased PMS is a mixed bag. So simply put, if you have PMS, you want to try and reduce/remove caffeine and see how you feel. For some people it is a complete game changer and for other it makes no difference at all because it wasn’t caffeine driving the dysfunction. Again, with any change done for hormones you must give three months to know if this is working for you.
Caffeine & Estrogen:
High Caffeine Intake is associated with higher levels or disruption of estrogen. Essentially, every study I read that found this positive correlation, had women drink more than 4 cups of coffee daily. A few studies saw the correlation mostly with caffeine intake >200mg. So again, instead of blanket villanizing, let’s use common sense.
If you have estrogen dominance, you would want to make sure to decrease your caffeine consumption to below 200mg daily (on average, that is one, 8-12 oz cup of coffee depending on the beans). I personally choose to drink decaf coffee on most days because of how caffeine affects the hormones and what is best for me based on my health history. Basically, make adjustments accordingly based on your health history. Do you have imbalanced estrogen? Then you must become aware of your caffeine intake and see if you can have some caffeine or if you need to switch to decaf. If your balance does not improve after reducing to less then 200mg daily then you would want to reduce your amount again. You may find that no caffeine is the answer. Again, with any change done for hormones you must give three months to know if this is working for you.
Caffeine Causes Cyst Formation
For women with PCOS, Fibroids, Endometriosis, Ovarian Cysts, and Fibrocystic breasts caffeine can increase the formation of cysts. Therefore, if you have any of these known issues, cutting caffeine can actually make a big difference. I would highly recommend a three-month, no-caffeine challenge.
If you take thyroid hormone you hopefully know that you should not take your medication within one hour of drinking coffee. This is because caffeine/coffee impacts the absorption. If you didn’t know that, well now you do!
Besides that, it is important to note that if you have estrogen dominance, your T4 to T3 conversion can be impacted. Therefore, it would be a good idea for you to explore how much caffeine you are having and reduce to less than 200mg daily. From there, you will need to figure out if you need to reduce all together based on how you respond and your health history. Anyone with Hashimoto’s should carefully monitor their reaction to caffeine.
People with gluten intolerance can experience cross reactivity with other foods. Coffee is one of those foods because it has a similar protein structure to gluten. So it can cause some people to experience the same symptoms they would get if they were to eat gluten. So if you are intolerant to gluten, it good to mindful of this connection and remove coffee for at least 21 days and bring back in to make sure it does not affect you.
Interesting fact: coffee stimulates how fast food moves through your digestive track. This happens because coffee stimulates the release of gastrin (the main gastric hormone that speeds up intestinal transit time), stimulates the release of bile, and stimulates digestive enzymes as well. Ever noticed how after you drink your mornign coffee you have “go?” This is a bad thing unless it flares digestives issues. The best way to know if this is causing unwanted digestive symptoms is to move it for three weeks and bring it back in.
Exhausts the adrenals
Coffee stimulates the adrenals to release more cortisol, our stress hormone; this is partly why we experience a wonderful but temporary and unsustainable burst of energy. However, research also shows that this spike in cortisol decrease with consistent consumption. So what does that mean for you? I’m just simply pointing out, that yet again, the answer is not cut and dry. So what you need to figure out is if caffeine is the only reason you are functioning during the day. Do you have dependence? Then yes, you need to work on reducing/eliminating your caffeine consumption so that your adrenals can recover.
If you’re trying to heal your body, recover energy, and help your adrenals get some much needed support, avoiding caffeine and trying decaffeinated coffee can be an important step.
Caffeine and Infertility
It does appear that caffeine can have a significant impact if you are experiencing infertility. You should definitely research this further if you’re struggling with infertility. One study showed that drinking 3 cups of coffee a day (in women or men) could increase the risk of miscarriage by 74%. Caffeine is just as important as eliminating alcohol and smoking to a successful pregnancy.
Have you wondered if you need to cut caffeine out due to hormones imbalance? I hope this information will inspire you to figure it out what works for you. No pressure. No hating on coffee. Just simply taking the time to figure out the answer to the all-important question, “How does this make me feel”?”
You are worth the effort and remember, you can always drink swiss-water processed decaf coffee in most cases ; )