Coffee is a daily fuel for many of us, and, until a year ago, I would have certainly struggled myself to get out of bed in the morning if the kettle wasn’t at the end of the short walk down the stairs. Just the promise of the first caffeine hit spurred me into action.
But there’s another side of coffee to consider. It is, after all, a drug, and all drugs work by causing physical reactions within the body; and there are increasing question marks over the connection of problems with women’s health and coffee consumption. The link with women’s health, in particular, is partly due to the effect that caffeine has on female hormones and, tied to this, the fact that caffeine metabolises much slower in women’s bodies than those of men. This slower metabolisation can often be exacerbated by female oral contraceptives, meaning that, for women using these, caffeine stays in the body even longer before being flushed out, and its effects are therefore amplified.
Let’s have a look below at the side effects of coffee in females and how to wean off coffee effectively and (relatively) easily.
Is Coffee Bad for Women’s Health?
Caffeine is a drug that impacts the central nervous system. Its primary effect is the lessening of fatigue, often in conjunction with an increase in energy. Caffeine is also linked with a boost to cognitive and physical performance and promotes faster than standard reaction times. It can give you a vital lift when the after-lunch slump is threatening and keep sleep at bay when you need to get that one last report written.
So, you ask, what’s so wrong with this amazing substance that can stave off sleep and help you hit the gym, the office, and the party that you’re feeling too tired to drag yourself to? Well. Sorry to say… it’s highly addictive.
Not enough to convince you? The following DID get me thinking enough to consider switching to a coffee alternative.
The Blood Sugar/Stress Hormone Connection
Cortisol is the agitating element on the blood sugar/stress hormone street.
It is a hormone produced as part of the body’s stress response. In moderation, it’s okay and can even be helpful – one of its many jobs in the body is maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. However, the consumption of caffeine prompts a spike in cortisol production.
Another helping hand that cortisol gives the body is its regulation of blood sugar. The cortisol boosting caffeine kick, though, disrupts this, throwing the balance out. This results in blood sugar levels rising and plummeting throughout the day as caffeine levels peak and drop. And that, my friends, is the critical blood sugar/hormone connection and the reason that coffee (and other highly caffeinated drinks) disrupts it.
Instability in our blood sugar levels usually makes us prone to short bursts of energy followed by bouts of fatigue. It can also cause problems with concentration, recall, and learning new information.
On top of this, the excessively high cortisol levels brought on by regularly drinking caffeine can also block the body’s natural regulation of inflammation, which can have a wide-ranging effect on a person’s general physical and mental wellbeing and exacerbate the symptoms of existing conditions.
There’s more, though…
Coffee and PMS/PMDD
PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) and PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) are conditions that can both be made significantly worse by the regular intake of coffee. There is a powerful connection between our morning coffee and hormones that become imbalanced.
The blood sugar spikes and troughs brought on by caffeine, mentioned above, also cause other problems for women related to fertility: there is a direct link between caffeine and estrogen metabolism within the female body. Both insulin and blood sugar levels soar when caffeine is consumed; this disrupts ovulation and progesterone production and is a significant contributing factor in a subsequent excess of estrogen in the body.
The answer to the question, ‘does coffee increase estrogen in females?’ is a resounding affirmative. And given that this increase is often one of the main contributing factors to PMS and PMDD, reducing your coffee intake or quitting entirely could be hugely beneficial to those who suffer from either and dramatically reduce your symptoms.
Does Coffee Affect Menstrual Flow?
As well as causing hormonal imbalances that affect ovulation and create estrogen dominance, the regular consumption of coffee can also cause a woman’s menstrual flow to be lighter than it should be. Research suggests that this is due to caffeine’s propensity to restrict blood vessels in the body, which results in uterine blood flow during menstruation being lighter, the menstrual cycle becoming shorter, and more prone to monthly irregularities and variation.
Experts suggest that regularly replacing coffee with a glass of water can significantly affect how a woman experiences menstruation, with a decrease in breast tenderness and abdominal discomfort all observed in those who cut down their coffee consumption.
Is Coffee Bad for Ovarian Cysts?
Coffee disrupts the body’s ability to regulate inflammation and can exacerbate existing inflammation-related problems, such as ovarian cysts. Recent research suggests that the frequent drinking of caffeinated beverages can not only cause a worsening of symptoms linked to cysts already present, but may even cause new ones to develop. This study suggests that women suffering from this condition should also consider cutting out or limiting their alcohol consumption and avoiding foods high in refined sugar or saturated fat.
Other Unpleasant Effects of Coffee on Women’s Health
Besides upsetting the balance of hormones in the body, coffee also causes other physical side effects, including problems with digestion and raised blood pressure and heart rate. There is growing evidence that coffee can worsen the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, too. It’s also been linked to fatigue and anxiety and, more well known, persistent insomnia, with studies repeatedly showing that even those who drink coffee many hours before bedtime take much longer to fall asleep than those who do not.
Coffee acts to disrupt the body’s absorption of essential vitamins and minerals; levels of Vitamin B6, calcium, iron and magnesium may all be more difficult to maintain in the bodies of those who drink coffee regularly compared with those who do not.
Its addictive properties can’t be ignored, either, and that when consumed frequently in medium to large amounts, coffee can cause both a physical and psychological dependency. After just sixteen hours without drinking coffee, regular drinkers will likely experience withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches and feelings of fatigue.
Benefits of Quitting Coffee on Women’s Health
- For women especially, quitting coffee can have major long-term health benefits. Giving coffee the heave-ho can re-establish hormonal stability, help to protect against miscarriage in pregnancy, and alleviate the symptoms of PMS and PMDD.
- Forgoing coffee can also quickly get blood sugar levels back on an even keel, helping you to feel calmer, and less prone to energy crashes and fatigue throughout the day.
- You can also expect to sleep better at night, and have an increased feeling of overall wellbeing, as your body’s ability to absorb the full range of nutrients from your food is no longer disrupted.
Is ditching your daily cup of coffee worth it? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say yes, absolutely. So let’s have a look at how to go about it in the most pain-free fashion.
How to Quit Coffee Without Killing Anyone
The idea of quitting coffee can be a scary one. For many people, as well as being their energy-boosting, tiredness busting friend, it’s a much-loved ritual of their daily lives. But now we’ve established the havoc it can wreak on our hormones and general health, perhaps it’s time to give it a go!
So, the first step in kicking the habit as painlessly as possible is to stop adding any sugar, cream, syrup and other yummy flavourings to your cup of coffee. At this point, you can still have the coffee, but you’re taking a little step to weaning your body off it by making it a little less appealing. So far, so good.
Next: you’re going to switch up your mugs. Rather than using a large (in my case, bucket-sized) mug, you need to have your coffee in a much smaller cup. You’re now gradually reducing the quantity and hopefully not experiencing too much coffee grief in the process.
You’ve done well. The next stage in your mission to eliminate caffeinated coffee from your life is to start cutting your regular coffee with decaffeinated coffee. If you usually make your drink with a teaspoon of instant coffee, simply use half a teaspoon, and top up with half a teaspoon of decaf instant coffee. Let your body get used to the new regime for a week or so as the caffeine gradually lessens in your system.
Once you’re ready to take the plunge, either switch entirely to decaf coffee or choose another drink as your go-to beverage and celebrate your achievement!
It’s imperative to eat regularly and well throughout the process of weaning your body off coffee. Your blood sugar levels will be adjusting, so help maintain them by choosing nutritious food and setting a strong intention to nurture your mind and body as your hormones begin to balance again.
How Long Until Caffeine is Completely Out of Your System?
After eliminating caffeine from your diet, about 50% of the drug will have been removed from your system within just five hours, and it takes approximately 1.5 days for your body to flush it out entirely. At this point, you might start to experience some withdrawal symptoms, especially if you’ve cut caffeine out ‘cold turkey,’ rather than following the steps above to slowly cut back your consumption.
What Alternatives Are There to Caffeinated Coffee?
It’s not just about decaf coffee from here on in, though.
If you’re wondering, ‘what tea is good for estrogen?’ then, to further promote a healthy hormone balance, consider drinking green tea, which improves the metabolism of estrogen as well as being a powerful anti-inflammatory.
If teas aren’t your thing, health stores are increasingly selling a variety of caffeine-free beverages to cater for consumers seeking to cut this drug out of their lives. These alternatives include instant drinks made from wheat bran, barley, rye, and even dandelion roots, and the fans of these seemingly unusual alternatives are growing in number.
Cutting Out Coffee for Life
The idea of giving up coffee on a forever basis can feel daunting. It sure did to me, anyway. However, the health impacts, especially relating to hormone levels, are too worrying to ignore. Waving goodbye to coffee is likely to cause a massive boost to your overall wellbeing, as your hormones and blood sugar begin to regulate and stabilise again. As time goes on, this will only be an improving picture, with your fatigue levels falling and any issues you experience with your menstrual cycle starting to resolve.
After a whole year coffee-free, I need to conclude that cutting out coffee was one of the best things I did for my body and my general wellbeing this year.