What Women Need to Know about Caffeine

last updated on
June 16, 2023
by
Alisa Vitti

Attention, Coffee and Tea Drinkers: Did you know that caffeine disrupts your hormones — including insulin, cortisol, and reproductive hormones — for many hours after you drink it, interfering with blood sugar, sleep AND a wide range of physiological processes? For example:Caffeine hijacks your delicate hormonal wiring and wreaks havoc on your health in significant ways — from increasing the stress hormone cortisol (especially in women) to fueling the growth of benign breast cysts and increasing the risk of infertility and miscarriage.

Studies show that insulin rates are significantly higher after caffeine intake than after participants drank placebos without caffeine. And that’s not all. Caffeine stays in women’s bodies longer than men’s and it robs women of essential hormone-balancing nutrients and minerals. Caffeine consumption is also linked with increases in blood pressure in females (but not males).

This makes coffee and caffeinated beverages dangerous stuff if you suffer from existing hormone balances — or if you are concerned about protecting your hormones and your fertility in the future. What’s more, only 10 percent of the population is able to efficiently metabolize caffeine. If you’re one of the 9 in 10 people who have trouble processing caffeine, you might be extra susceptible to caffeine’s hormone disrupting effects.

Are You Able to Metabolize Caffeine?

Caffeine is broken down by the liver using the CYP1A2 enzyme. The CYP1A2 enzyme is regulated by the CYP1A2 gene. If you have a mutation in this gene, it affects how your liver breaks down and eliminates caffeine from your system. Based on your gene variation, you’ll either make a lot of this enzyme (and be a successful caffeine guzzler) or a little (and be unable to safely process caffeine). If you have a CYP1A2 mutation, a 2006 study found that you are at an elevated risk of suffering a heart attack from consuming 2 or more cups of coffee a day. Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women, so I think it makes sense for all women to  think twice before consuming caffeine.

The Mayo Clinic notes that too much caffeine can cause a variety of problems, from fertility struggles to insomnia and irritability. The CYP1A2 gene is also involved in the metabolism of estrogen. So if you struggle with PMS or a diagnosed estrogen-dominant condition like PCOS, fibroids, or endometriosis, then you have reason to suspect that you have a CYP1A2 mutation and are making less of the enzyme that breaks down both caffeine and estrogen. In 2008, research was done to build on the earlier studies linking caffeine to breast tissue changes and showed some association with increased risk of negative changes in breast tissue. Perhaps the variation in risk factors has something to do with this gene variation?

I think if there’s a history of breast cancer in your family, then this is important information to consider.Women often ask me about black and green tea, especially match, which is an antioxidant-rich green tea. Certainly teas provide certain health benefits, and matcha is rich in health-promoting compounds that protect cellular health and support physiological functions. But the fact remains that these beverages contain caffeine — and caffeine poses unique challenges for any woman with hormone imbalances. If you plan to indulge in caffeine once in a while, I think matcha is a great splurge, but I still maintain that women in their reproductive years should avoid most caffeine most of the time.

This is why getting off caffeine is such an important part of the FLO protocol. If you’re struggling with any hormone related issue (and if you’re reading this, you likely are), it’s important to remove any potential endocrine disruptors from your daily diet and lifestyle routine, including caffeine. You want to give your hormone system the break it needs to heal and come back into balance.

How Can I Tell if I Have a Hormone Imbalance (...aka How Do I Know if I Should Ditch Caffeine?)

I encourage all people with female physiology who are in their reproductive years to say no to caffeine. But women who suffer from hormone imbalances or a diagnosed hormone condition, like PCOS, fibroids, ovarian cysts, or endometriosis, should make going caffeine-free a top priority. How do you know if your hormones are out of balance (and that giving up caffeine is a good idea for you)? Here are some signs and symptoms of a hormone imbalance:

  • PMS
  • Severe period cramps
  • Bloating
  • Acne
  • Moodiness/depression
  • Anxiety
  • You have been steadily gaining weight for a few months or years
  • You can’t seem to lose weight even with a healthy diet and increased exercise
  • Chronic exhaustion/fatigue
  • Cyclical migraines
  • Sugar cravings
  • Breast or ovarian cysts
  • Low sex drive
  • Low energy
  • Endometriosis
  • PCOS

Women who are experiencing one or more of these symptoms should consider ditching caffeine for good. You should also give up caffeine if you suspect you have a caffeine intolerance.

How Can I Tell If I’m Caffeine Intolerant?

As I mentioned above, caffeine intolerance is surprisingly common, but most of us think of ourselves as immune to caffeine’s harshest effects. And almost everyone who drinks coffee or other caffeinated beverages will recognize that familiar pick-me-up feeling that caffeine brings. But if you experience any of the symptoms on the following list—symptoms that are often attributed to other conditions or physiological responses—you might be caffeine intolerant. Symptoms like:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue (yes, fatigue!)
  • High blood pressure
  • Poorly balanced blood sugar
  • Digestive distress
  • Feeling wired but tired
  • Racing heartbeat

You suffer from a hormone condition related to estrogen dominance (like PCOS or endometriosis)In many cases, these symptoms are chalked up to other diagnoses, like adrenal fatigue or anxiety disorders, but the real culprit might be coffee OR the causes of your symptoms are multifactorial and coffee consumption is one of the factors.

Caffeine Damages Fertility — in Both Men and Women

Caffeine has a significant negative impact on fertility for both men and women, yet it’s rarely ever mentioned as a dietary change that supports conception. Here’s just some of what the research tells us about the link between caffeine and infertility:

What About Upgraded Coffee?

In my new book, In the FLO, I expose the gender bias inherent in medical, fitness, and nutrition research and in health trends. Upgraded coffee is a great example of this in action. It can be great for men, and it's questionable for women.

Here's why:

Coffee can be a potent biohacking tool for men who experience an energy dip in the afternoon as they run out of  their testosterone and cortisol supply for the day or for those who are intermittent fasting. People with female physiology, however, do not have the same issue, nor is it safe to practice intermittent fasting during your reproductive years, as I uncover in In the FLO, and, hence, do not need to compensate for the same daily energy dip. For men, caffeine as an energy booster makes sense for their bodies and their unique hormone patterns (so long as they have no CYP1A2 gene variation).In the female-centric health paradigm, you want to boost your energy by balancing your blood sugar and supporting as your estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and insulin fluctuations throughout the month by working with your infradian rhythm.  

Eliminating coffee and using The Cycle Syncing Method™ to eat, move, and supplement in a phase-based pattern is the best way to biohack for increased energy. Women’s bodies are brilliantly designed to conserve energy (so we are better able to conceive and carry a pregnancy). Our bodies retain fluids longer and we metabolize the compounds contained in foods and beverages much more slowly. Men drink and excrete both alcohol and caffeine faster and more efficiently than women, meaning these substances don’t have as significant an impact on their physiology or lead to caffeine toxicity.

If you have female hormones and you choose to consume caffeine, it IS essential to consume it with or after a meal that contains some healthy fats — to keep blood sugar stable and never on an empty stomach. You don’t need to add butter to your coffee. But of course my top recommendation is to give up caffeine all together!

How to Wean Yourself Off Coffee

Ready to give your hormones some TLC by ditching coffee? Here’s how to come off coffee with fewer withdrawal symptoms and no loss of energy:

Eat a big, nutrient-dense breakfast.

Eat a phytonutrient-rich breakfast with lots of healthy, high-quality fats and protein every day. This could be a (free-range organic) egg omelette with spinach plus gluten-free avocado toast drizzled in extra virgin olive oil. Or a smoothie with nut butter and hemp protein.  Make breakfast the biggest meal of your day. Your body needs most of its fuel in the morning (rather than the evening) to support healthy energy levels throughout the day.

Shore up your adrenal system with supplements and adaptogenic herbs.

Herbs like ginkgo biloba and rhodiola support sharp thinking and mental focus, making them a good addition to your routine when you are trying to give up coffee and caffeinated tea. Vitamin B12 and vitamin B5 are necessary nutrients for maintaining healthy sustained energy everyday, and most people are deficient. Maca root powder is another plant compound that helps boost energy and support the adrenal system without taking a toll in adrenal and whole body health, like coffee does.

Seek out healthy substitutes.

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. It’s also alkalizing for the blood versus the acid-forming cup of coffee. I am a tea collector, and I know that most herbal tea over time just tastes like hot potpourri. But kukicha tea is in a non-floral, non-herbaceous class by itself. You can also drink maca root powder as a tea. It has a coffee-like taste, helps with energy and detox, and is especially delicious with a bit of non-dairy creamer and a small dollop of honey. Roasted dandelion root tea and burdock root tea both have a satisfying earthy flavor.

Replenish your micronutrients.

Coffee drains the body of essential micronutrients. If you have a history of caffeine use, your body will need supplemental nutrients in order to bring your reproductive hormones back into balance.

Practice The Cycle Syncing Method™.

When you eat, exercise, and work in a way that supports your fluctuating hormones, you will build energy daily instead of working against your hormones and leaving yourself depleted and drained. If you are new to The Cycle Syncing Method™, star by downloading the MyFlo app and tracking your 28-day hormone cycle, also known as your infradian rhythm.

If you occasionally Indulge in caffeine, remember that size matters.

Take the European approach to coffee drinking. Drink a small cup of fresh espresso, rather than a giant cup (or two or three) of coffee and only have it with food. And make a habit of savoring your occasional cup of coffee instead of guzzling it on the run. And on any day you have caffeine, make sure to rehydrate with coconut water or another healthy source of electrolytes.

Integrative Nutritionist, Author, & Founder of FLO Living

Alisa Vitti

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