I think most of you would agree, that coffee and tea are associated with socializing, being part of your morning routine, improved energy levels and better mood.
If you have tried to cut down on caffeinated beverages or stopped having them completely before, you know that it’s not easy to give them up.
In this article, I would love to help you answer the question “Can I have coffee with PCOS?”, which I get asked a lot. You know your body best. You know how much caffeine you tolerate and how it makes you feel. Nevertheless, we cannot forget about science. Once you’ve read this article, you’ll be able to make some educated decisions and possible changes to your caffeine consumption.
The Benefits of Coffee and Tea
Caffeine Helps Fight Depression
Let’s start on a positive note and acknowledge that coffee is not just “bad” for women with PCOS. It actually comes with a variety of health benefit, such as fighting depression. Coffee stimulates the secretion of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which functions kinda like a happiness hormone and puts you in a good mood.
Caffeine Boosts Mental Clarity
Caffeine does not only boost your mood, but your energy as well. It can enhance both mental and physical performance, such as recognizing visual patterns more quickly or allowing for longer workouts.
Caffeine Speeds up Metabolism
Coffee is also packed with beneficial anti-oxidants and can aid in weight loss. Your daily dose of coffee can help speed up your metabolism by increasing the number of calories you burn at rest. One study shows that a caffeine dose of 4.5g per pound body weight can increase metabolic rate by 13%. But this means that you would have to drink a lot of coffee. If you weigh 70 kilograms, you’d have to drink 7 cups of coffee to achieve that. Good bye sleep!
Caffeine Lowers Testosterone
Studies have also shown that caffeine can help lower sex-hormone-binding globulin, which is SHGB in short. It’s a protein produced by the liver, which binds to the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. Elevated levels of SHBG are associated with lower levels of free testosterone and estrogen and even reduced risk for developing type ll diabetes. Frank Hu, a medical doctor and one of the authors of “The Harvard Study”, theorized that caffeine may aid in diabetes prevention because it stimulates muscles to burn fat and sugar more efficiently.
Why you Should Avoid Caffeine for Hormonal Balance
Now, that we’ve looked at some of the possible benefits of caffeine consumption, let’s discuss the downsides of caffeine and in what cases it best should be avoided.
When looking at caffeine from a hormonal perspective, it can worsen a lot of your symptoms, especially when you suffer from an adrenal disease like adrenal fatigue, where your adrenals are exhausted, have high levels of estrogen or if you suffer from cravings, mood swings and depression.
Caffeine Consumption Leads to Mood Swings
Just like carbohydrates can put you on the blood sugar rollercoaster and can cause highs and lows, so can caffeine. It stimulates your brain to release more dopamine, which makes you feel good. Dopamine can also cause you to be more energetic and alert. But once the effects wear off, caffeine can leave you feeling jittery, tired and in a bad mood. If you already suffer from unstable energy levels, caffeine may aggravate your symptoms and cutting down on coffee and tea, just like refined carbs and sugar, may give you more stable energy throughout the day. You may also become caffeine dependent because of the dopamine release.
Increased Secretion of Stress Hormones and Androgens
Caffeine also causes the adrenals to produce more cortisol by stimulating ACTH secretion by the pituitary gland. Elevated cortisol levels can increase blood sugar levels and thus worsen insulin resistance. When the adrenals produce larger quantities of cortisol, they are also likely to produce more adrenal androgens like DHEA and DHEA-S, as well as testosterone. The secretion of these hormones may worsen PCOS symptoms such as acne, hair loss, hirsutism and irregular periods.
Lowers Progesterone Levels
Caffeine may also have a negative effect on progesterone levels, which are often low in women with PCOS, especially when you don’t ovulate. Both, cortisol and progesterone, are made from a precursor hormone called pregnenolone. If the body needs to make more cortisol, it will do so at the cost of progesterone, increasing the already existing imbalance of estrogen and progesterone. If you are trying to get pregnant, you might want to consider avoiding anything that triggers stress, in order to maintain adequate progesterone levels, which are necessary to maintain pregnancy after conception.
May Increase Estrogen Levels
When it comes to estrogen, a study revealed different effects on estrogen levels depending on ethnicity. The consumption of more than 2 cups of coffee a day had shown to further increase estrogen levels in Asian women and lower estrogen in white women. The study also showed that as little as one cup of caffeinated soda or green tea is enough to increase free estrogen in women of all races. High estrogen levels may hinder the maturation of egg follicles and thus effect fertility. It can also cause severe PMS symptoms and heavy bleeding.
Caffeine can also have a negative effect on gut health, impair nutrient absorption and worsen inflammation. Coffee can increase stomach acid and lead to symptoms of acid reflux. It can also cause more bile and digestive enzymes to be secreted and thus make you run to the bathroom. Additionally, it can have a destructive effect on the lining of your intestinal walls and can worsen symptoms of IBS and gut issues and increase inflammation. Coffee can hinder vital minerals such as iron from being absorbed. Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue and increase hair loss. It also depletes B-vitamins and magnesium needed for progesterone production.
Coffee as Common Food Allergen
Did you know that coffee is a common allergen? 50% of people with gluten sensitivities also experience cross-reactivity with other foods, including casein in milk products, corn, coffee, and almost all grains, because their protein structures are similar, thus many people report having a similar reaction to coffee as they do to gluten.
And last but not least, caffeine can cause dehydration, which can put additional stress on your body.
There is plenty of additional downsides and benefits of caffeine. If you want to know more, I would highly encourage you to do your own, additional research.
How to Reduce Caffeine Intake/Alternatives
Now we’re left with the question, what shall I do?
First of all, I would not recommend consuming more than two cups of tea or coffee a day. By tea I’m referring to strong, black tea. If you feel like you have a very low tolerance to caffeine and you want to reduce your intake our even cut it out completely, there is a way of doing. Going cold turkey may cause body pain, headaches and put you in a bad mood. If you want to cut down on coffee, I would recommend replacing one half of your current coffee intake with decaf coffee. If possible, combine regular coffee and decaf in one mug. Something that has worked for me is using a smaller cup and consuming a smaller quantity of coffee.
You could do the same with tea. You can actually get decaffeinated black tea. One of my favorite tea-alternatives is redbush tea. It’s a very aromatic and packed with anti-oxidants that help fight inflammation. It’s naturally caffeine-free.
You can also opt for coffee alternatives made from barley, dandelion or chicory root. Please check what is available in your region. Most supermarkets or health food stores sell these alternatives.
Some great alternatives to tea and coffee include green tea, turmeric latte or Moroccan tea. You find a recipe below.
So, to summarize, caffeine consumption comes with a variety of benefits and downsides. Each women’s tolerance is different and it’s important to listen to your body. Coffee should especially be avoided if you suffer from HPA-axis dysfunction, such as adrenal fatigue or are trying to conceive, but your progesterone levels are low. To reduce your caffeine intake, replace some of your daily cups with decaffeinated options or chose caffeine-free alternatives.
Not, take a moment to evaluate your current caffeine-consumption. How does it make you feel? What would you like to change or experiment with? Do your research and make a plan.
Moroccan Tea Recipe
Moroccan tea is made with loose green tea powder and spearmint. Green tea is rich in anti-oxidants and helps fight inflammation. Spearmint aids in digestion.
Both ingredients help lower androgens in women with PCOS.
Moroccan tea, when consumed in small quantities, has a low caffeine content and may be a great alternative to your daily cups of black tea or coffee.
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 Tbsp. Loose Green Tea Leaves
4 Sprigs of Spearmint
3.5 Cups Hot Water
Bring water to a boil in a kettle. Add the tea leaves to a tea pot and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Let sit for 1 minute and pour the water into a cup. Set aside.
Add one more cup of hot water to the tea pot. Discard the water after one minute.
Pour the water from the first batch back into the tea pot and fill up the pot with the remaining hot water. Bring to a boil on the stove and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Add the spearmint and let sit for 5 minutes. Serve. Sweeten to your liking with liquid stevia, allulose or erythritol.
Share Your Experience
I would love to hear about your experience with caffeine. How does it affect you? Has reducing your caffeine intake helped you improve your PCOS symptoms? What’s your next step?
Lots of love,