Coffee - Who can drink it and who should avoid it? Part 2
by Laurie Terzo, DAOM, L.Ac., FABORM
In part 1 of this article, we talked about coffee’s physiological effects on the body and metabolism, as well as how genetics plays a role. If you missed this article, see here (link to Part 1).
So, should you drink coffee or not if you’re a woman?
Before I talk about what coffee may do to female hormones and fertility, let’s talk about the potential toxicity of ingesting coffee.
Coffee crops are very heavily sprayed with pesticides. There is clear harm to not only the environment but to the farmworkers where these crops are grown. But how about harm to our bodies from drinking it? The process of roasting does reduce the pesticide residue. However, detected levels are still very high compared to food as so many pesticides are used.
And, how about the toxicity of decaf? Unfortunately, besides the pesticide residue, the process of decaffeinating the coffee bean is not so good for you either. Coffee beans must go through a repeated chemical process to strip them of their caffeine content. This process can alter the chemical makeup of coffee, which I view as something that can be a real problem for our bodies.
Coffee and our hormones
Our hormonal system is intimately linked with our central nervous system, immune system, and our psychological health. There are complex interactions between all of these systems in the body.
For example, if we are under prolonged stress, we might tend to get sick more easily because of the dampening effect this has on our immune system. Or, our cycles may become irregular because of the way our body shunts off production to sex hormones in favor of stress hormones in this case. It’s a complex interchange, what effects one system will have resulting effects on the others.
Drinking coffee in large quantities can damage this neuro-immuno-endocrine system over the long term.
I see so many people that say coffee has no negative effects on their bodies. Yet the same patients tell me they’re exhausted, they don’t get restorative sleep, their sleep is disrupted with awakenings at 1 am or 2 am or 3 am or 4 am or all of the above, they have a hard time winding down, or they’re “wired but tired.” We check their labs and cortisol is too high after their cup of Peet’s, and they find they are gaining weight around their mid-section. Many may also have blood sugar instability and get irritable unless they eat frequently.
Even worse, caffeine increases inflammation, which is the final common pathway for many bad things from hormonal imbalance, to premature aging and cancer.
All of these issues can be related to caffeine. Because of these things, if you have hormonal imbalances, it’s definitely worth cutting out coffee for at least three months and monitoring your body to see if you feel a change.
What about drinking coffee and trying to conceive?
I know it’s painful to think about not waking up with that cup of coffee! And, add to that, some of the big headlines we see right now are touting the health benefits of coffee consumption. Organic coffee can have health benefits for some groups of people, but just not for ladies trying to conceive.
To date, there have been several high-quality studies showing the negative effect of caffeine on women trying to conceive. Most of these studies have looked at women drinking coffee, as that is the major caffeine source for women in the U.S. and Europe. We still don’t understand the exact physiological mechanism of why coffee has such a negative impact. Is it because coffee is one of the most chemically treated crops in the world? This could be a factor.
According to the CS Monitor, a non-profit news organization, up to 250 pounds of chemical fertilizers are sprayed per acre over non-organic coffee.
But, before you say you’ll just switch to tea every morning, there is one 1999 study which showed caffeine interfered with the egg’s ability to implant in the uterus.
There also seems to be a dose-dependent effect of coffee’s impact on conception. According to several studies, the amount of coffee a woman drinks is inversely associated with her ability to conceive. In 1992, Yale University did a study of 1,900 women found a 55% higher risk of not conceiving for women drinking 1 cup of coffee per day. For those drinking 1½-3 cups of coffee, the risk was 100% higher and 176% higher for 3+ cups a day.
Also, a 1998 study in the Lancet found a very similar conclusion on fertility outcomes. They divided their data into 5 dose levels and found a dose-response negative effect on pregnancy rates. In addition, the conclusion of a 1998 Danish study on caffeine intake and pregnancy rates stated that women who wish to achieve a pregnancy might benefit from a reduced caffeine intake.
So, to play it safe and maximize your fertility, avoid all caffeine sources while trying to conceive.
Is drinking coffee right for you?
There are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should drink coffee. No one food or drink will make or break your long-term health. Here are some things to consider on whether to enjoy that cup of coffee or to try to cut it out of your diet.
Caffeinated coffee is not recommended for:
- Women trying to conceive
- People with irritable bowel syndrome
- People with arrhythmias (e.g. irregular heartbeat)
- People who often feel anxious
- People who have trouble sleeping
- Pregnant women
- Children and teens
If none of these apply, then monitor how your body reacts when you have coffee. Does it:
- Give you the jitters?
- Increase anxious feelings?
- Affect your sleep?
- Give you heart palpitations?
- Affect your digestion (e.g. heartburn, diarrhea, etc.)?
- Give you a reason to drink a lot of sugar and cream?
Depending on how your body reacts, decide whether these reactions are worth it to you. If you’re not sure, I recommend eliminating it for a while to see if there is a positive difference in your health.