Should Women Quit Caffeine? A Hormone Expert On Why Coffee & Hormones Might Not Mix
Admit it: as a society, we’re completely dependent on coffee—and many of us aren’t aware how the biochemical effects of this powerful substance might affect our hormones. And as a hormone expert for women, I've avoided coffee for years and recommend the same to my clients.
Yes, research shows there may be some benefits to drinking coffee. But I believe that the risks for women with active hormone issues—like PMS, PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis, and difficulty becoming pregnant—not only outweigh any benefits but could also exacerbate these conditions.
Here are a few other reasons you may want to consider quitting coffee:
Women tend to metabolize caffeine more slowly than men do.
Just as women metabolize alcohol more slowly than men do and feel the negative effects after fewer servings, caffeine is no different—women also tend to metabolize it more slowly.
The female body is brilliantly designed to conserve as much energy from whatever we’re consuming so we can grow tiny humans in our uterus—amazing, right? Whether you are actively doing this or not, your body is built to retain fluids for much longer and to metabolize the chemicals contained much more slowly.
That said, if you’re skipping breakfast and caffeinating on an empty stomach or even using coffee as a meal replacement, you might feel those negative effects of coffee way more quickly.
Caffeine can disrupt your hormonal cascade.
Whether you know it or not, your daily coffee habit could be putting you on a blood sugar roller coaster. Here’s how:
- If you’re adding cream and sugar to make your daily brew palatable, these additions have the potential to spike your blood sugar.
- Caffeine itself can cause your body to produce extra cortisol. And while cortisol isn’t always bad (the steroid hormone helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels and regulates blood sugar), high cortisol levels can affect your body’s ability to regulate inflammation.
- Your system can reset with a good night’s sleep, but you might be unlikely to get sufficient rest thanks to the caffeine coursing through your body. Caffeine can stay in the body for up to 24 hours, which is why it can disrupt your sleep, even if you drink it in the morning! And when you’re lacking quality sleep, you can suppress healthy hormone production.
- If you wake up groggy the next morning, your first instinct might be to grab more coffee, setting off another day of endocrine disruption and dysfunction.
3 steps to reduce your coffee intake.
Quitting any addictive substance can be tough, and caffeine is no exception. But you can do it with the right guidance. Choose your own adventure here:
Scenario 1: You don’t rely on coffee for energy; you just love the taste:
- Start by losing the sugar and cream to minimize the blood-sugar impact.
- Take the European approach to coffee drinking: Switch to a small cup of fresh espresso rather than a giant vat.
- Drink your small cup of coffee only when you’re sitting, after, or during a full meal (again, the Europeans have this right). If you enjoy the taste, you should be savoring it—not gulping it down on the school run or as you dash to the office.
Scenario 2: You’re dependent on coffee and can see it’s making your hormonal symptoms worse, but you’re afraid of withdrawal:
- Eat a really good, big breakfast to give your body energy-boosting fuel at the beginning of the day.
- Support your need for mental focus with ginkgo biloba and Rhodiola. For natural and sustainable energy, I recommend ashwagandha, vitamin B12, and vitamin B5. To reduce stress and calm your cortisol, drink holy basil tea.
- Swap coffee for kukicha or “twig tea," which is made from the roasted stem from which green tea leaves are plucked. It has a nutty taste and is perfect any time of the day!
If cutting coffee cold turkey is just unimaginable for you, try these additional steps to curtail the caffeine and reduce withdrawal symptoms:
- Wean off of coffee by 50% every few days to a week to give your body a chance to adjust to the new caffeine levels.
- Mindfully choose the day you stop drinking coffee, and time it to be when you have a few days to deal with the withdrawal symptoms. For example, if you have Saturday and Sunday off of work, you might stop drinking coffee after Thursday. Get through Friday, and you’ll have Saturday and Sunday to deal with the symptoms. Monday may be a little rough, but the feeling should pass.
Whether you suffer from an active hormonal issue (such as PCOS, fibroids, and endometriosis) or just want to better optimize your hormones for a healthier lifestyle, you might want to think about quitting—or reducing—your coffee intake. With these three plans of action, it can be easy to indulge in the rich taste of coffee without becoming dependent on it to sustain your workday. Cheers to one espresso a day (or less)!
Alisa Vitti is a women's hormone and functional nutrition expert and pioneer in female biohacking. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Vitti has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, Lifetime, and has been a regular contributor for Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, and Women’s Health. She is the founder of The FLO Living Hormone Center, the world's first menstrual healthcare platform that has helped hundreds of thousands of women around the world put their period issues like PCOS, Fibroids, Endometriosis, and PMS into remission naturally using her highly effective FLO Protocol and the FLO Balance Period Supplements, and the creator the MyFLO period app—the first and only functional medicine period tracker. She is also the author of the best-selling book WomenCode. She has presented at SXSW, TEDx, Talks@Google, Summit Series Outside, and SHE Summit and regularly trains women in the workplace on how to use her Cycle Syncing Method for greater creativity, productivity, and wellbeing at work.