Caffeine and PCOS- Should You Avoid it?
Caffeine in whatever form, coffee or tea, is a staple in most peoples daily life. But can these beverages you love be making your PCOS worse?
Caffeine and PCOS is a popular topic in the community. Many women want to know if avoiding caffeine is necessary for hormonal balance and reversing PCOS.
In this post, you will find if you should avoid caffeine for your PCOS. We will look at the benefits and drawbacks of caffeine for PCOS and if caffeine is healthy for women with PCOS.
So, if you want to know if you can continue enjoying your delicious cup of coffee or tea, keep reading!
What is Caffeine?
Caffeine is a natural and popular stimulant used by people worldwide. It can be found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, pre-workout and even chocolate!
Caffeine is a stimulant because it activates the fight or flight stress response. During the fight or flight response, cortisol, the primary stress hormone, along with adrenaline and norepinephrine are released by the adrenals. The increase in cortisol leads to a rise in blood sugar levels (our primary source of energy). The surge in blood sugar in turn also leads to a rise in insulin. Which is why you feel a surge in energy after consuming caffeine.
So, as I mentioned, many women are curious to know about caffeine and PCOS.
Here's the thing.
To many people, their regular hot cup of coffee or tea is just a delicious little pick me up. But, get this, caffeine has tons of benefits for PCOS.
Don't believe me, well let me explain.
The Benefits of Caffeine for PCOS
The truth is that caffeine is a source of antioxidants, such as polyphenols, that help fight and prevent disease. Including these antioxidants into your diet can help reverse PCOS.
So despite what you may think, in certain doses caffeine can be a healthy addition to your diet.
But, you may be wondering 'exactly what can caffeine do for my PCOS?'
Well, here's what.
Increases Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin resistance affects 70% of PCOS women. It is a condition where the cells in the body have become desensitized to the effects of insulin. The cells struggle to absorb glucose in the blood and as a result, there is a build of up of sugar in the bloodstream.
If insulin resistance is not treated it can lead to Type 2 Diabetes and women with PCOS are at a greater risk of getting this.
Here's the deal.
Several studies show that caffeine can increase insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Researchers suggest, that while caffeine may cause a temporary reduction in insulin sensitivity, in the long term it increases it. The researchers found that consuming caffeine regularly is what increased insulin sensitivity.
Regular consumption of caffeine may increase insulin sensitivity.
However, the evidence is not clear yet. Further long term trials must be done to see the long term impact caffeine has on insulin. But, the results do sound promising.
Lowers Cardiovascular Risk
Women with PCOS are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease. One study found caffeine did not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In fact, results from another study showed that drinking 3–5 cups per day was associated with lower cardiovascular risk. While intake of more than 6 cups per day was neither increased or decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Lowers the Chance of Endometrial Cancer
Women with PCOS are about three times more likely to develop Endometrial Cancer.
A 2015 study looked at the impact coffee would have on endometrial cancer. They tested both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. The researchers found drinking 1 cup of either type of coffee per day reduced the risk of endometrial cancer by 5%. But 1 cup of caffeinated coffee per day reduced the risk by 7%. While 1 cup of decaffeinated coffee reduced the risk by 4%.
We can suggest, therefore, that caffeine found in coffee may reduce the incidence of endometrial cancer.
Reduces the Chance of Depression
Women with PCOS are at a higher risk of suffering from depression. Yet, research suggests that coffee consumption reduces the risk of depression.
One study found that the risk of depression decreased faster when the amount of caffeine consumed was above 68 mg/day and below 509 mg/day.
To know that drinking a cup or more of your favorite caffeinated beverage can help reduce the risk of depression is incredible!
Increases SHBG Levels
Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) is a protein made by the liver. Its role in the body is to bind together with three sex hormones; estrogen, testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT). SHBG then carries these hormones throughout the body to reduce the level of free hormones.
Testosterone bound to SHBG isn’t used by the body. Women with PCOS, however, have low levels of SHBG and therefore more testosterone than normal is used by the body. Leading to PCOS symptoms like infertility, hair loss and excess hair growth.
Researchers have also linked low levels of SHBG with insulin resistance. A condition that is shown to be common in women with PCOS.
Here is where caffeine can help. A recent study has found that caffeine can help increase SHBG levels. An increase in SHBG means the amount of free testosterone will decrease in turn helping with the PCOS symptoms. This increase in SHBG should also help treat insulin resistance.
Caffeine may help increase SHBG levels which are often low in women with PCOS. This can then help lower testosterone levels.
Effectively caffeine can help treat two of the biggest issues PCOS women face, high testosterone and insulin resistance. This is massive news!
May Help Boost Weight Loss
Weight gain and difficulty losing weight is a common symptom of PCOS. But what if I was to tell you that drinking caffeine may help you lose weight?
Okay, so here's the truth.
I am not saying that by simply drinking coffee you will lose fat. What I mean is, caffeine can help you burn through your fat stores for energy instead of using glycogen.
It is important to note that you cannot drink caffeine, sit around all day and expect to lose weight. Caffeine is not magic and weight loss does not work like that. To reap this benefit, you still need to exercise!
Caffeine can enhance your performance. By giving you that extra bit of energy but also helping you continue working out pain-free. As mentioned before, caffeine stimulates the production of adrenaline. With adrenaline running through your body you often don't feel as much pain during a workout.
Drawbacks of Caffeine for PCOS
Whilst there are great benefits to caffeine for PCOS. There are some drawbacks you must know if you are trying to balance your hormones and reverse PCOS.
Caffeine and the Adrenals
In the section about what caffeine is. I spoke about how when you drink caffeine your body switches into 'fight or flight' mode. The adrenals release both cortisol and adrenaline and you get this sudden rush of energy. While there is nothing wrong with activating this stress response from time to time, the chronic use of caffeine can lead to problems.
Here's the thing.
As well as the release of cortisol and adrenaline. The adrenals are an organ that releases male hormones. Including DHEA, testosterone and androstenedione.
It is estimated that between 20-30% of women with PCOS suffer from adrenal androgen excess. Known as adrenal PCOS. This means a percentage of women with PCOS are producing male hormones from their adrenals instead of their ovaries.
Women suffering from adrenal PCOS or adrenal fatigue may find avoiding caffeine may help.
So if you have been diagnosed with adrenal PCOS avoiding caffeine may be beneficial.
May Effect Quality of Sleep
Sleep plays a key role in balancing hormones. However, women with PCOS report difficulty falling asleep. With research showing sleep disturbances were twice as common in women with PCOS compared with those without. Studies reveal caffeine can affect sleep.
A study found caffeine reduces slow-wave sleep in the early part of the sleep cycle. Slow-wave sleep is the stage where we are in real deep sleep and this is the most crucial sleep stage. It is here when our body recovers and heals.
The time caffeine is consumed can have an impact on an individual's sleep quality. The results of a study showed that consuming caffeine 3 or 6 hours prior to bedtime can significantly disturb sleep.
Drinking caffeine 3 or 6 hours before bed can significantly disturb sleep.
So as women with PCOS already suffer from sleep disturbances, avoiding caffeine achieve good quality sleep. Which will in the long term help with reverse their PCOS naturally.
Raises Estrogen Levels
As well as high male hormones, women with PCOS may have high estrogen levels. Researchers have found that caffeine can increase estrogen levels.
A possible reason for this, is that caffeine and estrogen are both broken down by the same process in the liver. So drinking caffeine means your liver focuses on breaking that down and not estrogen, causing a build-up.
Research has found that mood and anxiety disorders are more common in women with PCOS. Results from a study showed even 100mg of caffeine can cause symptoms of anxiety.
Though we all have a different tolerance to caffeine. Some people are more sensitive than others, and this is often based on genetics. Some people are better able to metabolize caffeine than others. Therefore it is important that you assess your own personal response to caffeine.
If you drink coffee and feel more anxious, this may be a sign that you should stop drinking it.
And if you are someone who suffers from severe anxiety and panic attacks, consuming caffeine may not help.
I suggest making a note of how you feel after you drink caffeine to see how it impacts you.
What about Caffeine's Impact on Fertility?
You may have come across articles warning you against the negative effects of drinking caffeine for fertility. But, while there have been many studies looking at the effect of caffeine on fertility, there is no conclusive evidence yet.
What the research says
A study found that it is the amount of caffeine consumed that may reduce fertility. The findings show women who drink five or more cups per day are at significant risk of reducing their chance to conceive.
While other studies found no association between the amount of caffeine consumed and a reduction in fertility.
Need for Further Research
As you can see, the research examining the impact of caffeine on fertility isn't conclusive. This is because there are other lifestyle that could affect fertility. It may be that drinking caffeine in addition to another lifestyle choice can affect fertility. There is a need for further research to identify if caffeine really is the culprit here or not.
So, you might be wondering.
Which Caffeinated Beverage is Best for PCOS?
The most popular caffeinated beverages are coffee and tea, including black, white and green tea. They all have great health benefits for PCOS. However, it is difficult to say which is best for PCOS. It is not easy to separate all ingredients found in these beverages and identify their role in the body.
Coffee, has been the most widely studied because it contains the most caffeine. But you would also gain the benefits of caffeine from drinking tea, although maybe to a lesser extent as it contains less caffeine.
Further benefits of Tea
Studies have found that tea contains antioxidants which are important for our health. Antioxidant compounds found in green tea, notably EGCG, have been shown to have anti-cancer properties.
While the anti-cancer properties of tea sound promising. We cannot conclude for certain that it reduces the risk of cancer.
But here’s the kicker.
Is it the Caffeine or the Coffee?
Bear with me, because I’m going to show you how you can still reap some of the benefits of caffeine. But without the drawbacks.
How you ask?
The answer is: decaffeinated coffee.
While decaffeinated coffee still contains small amounts of caffeine. It is an easy way to cut back on your caffeine consumption. Decaffeinated coffee will eliminate the drawbacks, whilst still providing you with some benefits.
Increasing Insulin Sensitivity - In a recent study, decaffeinated coffee was just as effective at increasing insulin sensitivity as caffeinated coffee. So PCOS women who suffer from insulin resistance can drink decaffeinated coffee and still see an improvement in their insulin resistance.
Cardiovascular Risk - As with caffeinated coffee, drinking decaffeinated coffee may help lower the risk.
This is encouraging to know as women with PCOS are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, you can still reap this great benefit going decaf.
Endometrial Cancer - As mentioned above. Research has found that decaffeinated coffee can reduce the risk of endometrial cancer by 4%. Whilst it is not as effective as caffeinated coffee which reduces the risk by 7%, it still has some effect.
SHBG Levels - Research shows that decaffeinated coffee does not increase SHBG levels as caffeinated coffee does. This means you will not get the same reduction in testosterone as you would with caffeinated coffee.
The fact that caffeine can increase SHBG levels is one of caffeine's greatest benefits for women with PCOS. So, knowing that decaffeinated coffee doesn't have the same effect is unfortunate.
Weight Loss - Decaffeinated coffee does not contain enough caffeine to activate the ‘fight or flight’ response. Therefore, if you are looking to reap the benefits of more energy and weight loss, you must choose caffeinated coffee.
Depression - Unlike with caffeine, a study found decaffeinated coffee does not reduce the risk of depression.
Therefore, to see a reduction in depression, one of the major risk factors associated with PCOS. Caffeinated coffee is the way to go.
The Verdict - Caffeine or Decaffeinated?
As you can see. You can experience a few of the benefits of caffeine for PCOS by drinking decaffeinated coffee. But not all.
Which means it is the caffeine that holds great benefits for women with PCOS. The research clearly shows that women with PCOS who drink caffeine, instead of decaffeinated coffee can benefit from a more significant reduction in the risk of endometrial cancer and depression.
They can also experience an increase in SHBG levels which is huge for women with PCOS who are trying to lower their testosterone levels. Also, drinking caffeine can help boost weight loss. In addition to an increase in insulin sensitivity and a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.
When Decaffeinated Coffee is Best
However, if you suffer from adrenal PCOS or adrenal fatigue decaffeinated coffee may be better suited for you. This type of PCOS requires a reduction in stress levels. So, avoiding caffeine can help heal your adrenals and PCOS symptoms.
Also, if you have PCOS but also high estrogen levels. Limiting your caffeine consumption or opting for decaffeinated coffee may lower estrogen levels.
Lastly, if you struggle to fall asleep at night and your anxiety is worse after drinking caffeine. Choose decaffeinated coffee. A lack of sleep and managing anxiety are both stressors on the body. Therefore sleeping better and lowering anxiety levels are crucial for balancing hormones and reversing PCOS.
Should Women with PCOS Avoid Caffeine?
The truth is, there is no clear yes or no answer. Caffeine certainly has some great benefits for PCOS. Including an increase in insulin sensitivity after long term consumption of coffee, increase in SHBG levels, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, endometrial cancer and depression.
Though caffeine can also have some drawbacks. Like adrenal fatigue, sleep disturbances, anxiety and increased estrogen levels. The impact of caffeine on fertility though is still not clear.
The Decision Lies With You
Ultimately, the decision of whether you should avoid caffeine depends on your individual tolerance to caffeine and the type of PCOS that you have. If you suffer from adrenal PCOS, or if you have high estrogen levels and struggle to fall asleep. It may be best to avoid caffeine altogether, or at least limit how much you drink. But I would highly recommend discussing this with your doctor before making a dietary change.
From the evidence, it suggested that the ideal amount of caffeine you should consume is 1-3 cups a day. But again this depends on how you feel, so I recommend making a note of your symptoms when you drink coffee. If you are trying to conceive experts recommend a limit of 2 cups.
If you are concerned about the caffeine content and its effects on PCOS. You can still reap some of the benefits even if you drink decaffeinated coffee.
Moderation Is Key
Just like with most things, it is all about moderation and finding a high-quality tea or coffee that meets your needs. As mentioned I personally drink one cup of Four Sigmatic coffee every morning to get me fired up for the day.
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Hey there! I am Despina Pavlou, founder of PCOS Oracle, certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist. I want to share with you the diet and lifestyle changes I made to naturally reverse my PCOS and achieve hormonal balance. I believe using my holistic approach you too can take back control from PCOS.
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Thank you so much for sharing. Extremely helpful and informative article. Keep up blogging and much appreciated.
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the article 🙂