It’s that time of year. Copious cups of coffee are just what back-to-school ordered. Mellow, rich, bold, fruity—coffee keeps the busy mom in full drive. Caffeine also fuels endless mental lists: packing lunches, making breakfast, email replies, house chores, work projects, etc. While coffee is full of benefits, it’s easy to overdo it—especially it comes to hormone health. If you think you’re too reliant on your cup (or three) of coffee, don’t fret. Thankfully, it’s possible to enjoy your coffee while still supporting hormonal balance. Read on (or watch here!) to learn how caffeine and hormones are related.
WHAT IS CAFFEINE?
Working, studying, parenting, or simply running errands are all made easier with a cup of caffeine. Caffeine is a natural stimulant (a drug). It works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system. It helps you stay alert. Said differently: caffeine prevents the onset of tiredness. In many ways, your cup of coffee acts as an adenosine receptor antagonist. Adeno—what? Adenosine is a chemical present in all human cells. It promotes sleepiness. As soon as you take your first sip of caffeine, it blocks the adenosine receptor. This keeps you from feeling sleepy. In essence, caffeine works by blocking the effects of adenosine and at the same time, triggers the release of adrenaline. It’s a double whammy.
HOW QUICKLY DOES CAFFEINE AFFECT THE BODY?
It varies. For most, caffeine begins affecting the body very quickly. It can be felt as soon as 15 minutes after it is consumed. It reaches a peak level in your blood within 30-60 minutes, with a half-life of three to five hours. Meaning, your body can eliminate some of the caffeine within three to five hours, but the remaining amount of caffeine can stay much longer. Ultimately, it depends on if you’re a “fast metabolizer” or a “slow metabolizer.” This all comes down to our genes. The fast group breaks down caffeine more quickly than the slow group. And thus, the effects of caffeine don’t last as long for this group. That said, if you’re implementing healthier ways to drink coffee, you can slow down caffeine’s ticking clock.
COMMON SOURCES OF CAFFEINE
Caffeine ranks as one of the most commonly consumed dietary ingredients across the globe. It is naturally found in coffee beans (of course!), but it’s also present in cacao beans, kola nuts, guarana berries, and tea leaves. It can also be made, synthetically. Coffee and tea are the two most prominent sources, but sodas and energy drinks rank high as well. Curious to know how much caffeine is in your shot of espresso? Here’s the gist:
1 cup (or 8 ounces) of brewed coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine. The same amount of instant coffee contains about 60 mg of caffeine. Decaffeinated coffee only contains about 4 mg of caffeine.
1 shot or (1.5 ounces of coffee) contains about 65 mg caffeine.
1 cup of black tea contains about 47 mg caffeine. Green tea contains about 28 mg. Decaffeinated tea contains 2 mg, and herbal tea contains none.
A 12-ounce can of regular or diet dark cola contains about 40 mg caffeine.
1 ounce of dark chocolate contains about 24 mg caffeine, whereas milk chocolate contains much less caffeine.
1 cup (or 8 ounces) of an energy drink contains about 85 mg caffeine. However, the standard energy drink serving is 16 ounces, which doubles the caffeine to 170 mg. Energy shots are much more concentrated, though. A small, 2-ounce shot contains about 200 mg caffeine.
Caffeine supplements contain about 200 mg per tablet or the amount in two cups of brewed coffee.
caffeine and hormones: a complex connection
While caffeine seems to increase cortisol levels—especially when combined with other stressors—the link between caffeine and hormones is nuanced. It’s not as black-and-white as drinking caffeine or abstaining. That said, observational studies find a correlation between caffeine and hormones. Meaning, there’s a link, but there’s no proof that caffeine causes changes in hormones. It’s possible that some other behavior or inherent trait, common in people who consume more caffeine, is responsible for the differing hormone levels. Think: diet, exercise, sleep, stress, and supplement use.
In general, here’s my two-cents: notice how caffeine impacts your body. Do you experience jitters, poor sleep, digestive woes, anxiety, etc. when drinking? Furthermore, consider why you drink it. If you notice adverse symptoms shortly after drinking it (or when it’s time for bed), and / or you’re using it to compensate for undernourishing dietary habits, it’s worth re-considering your coffee habit. Additionally, chat with your healthcare provider if you’re pregnant. After all, it’s recommended to limit caffeine exposure to a growing fetus. That said, there are studies suggesting caffeine may aid in preventing diabetes and mental health.
how caffeine impacts estrogen
As mentioned, the caffeine-hormone connection is convoluted. Like taking supplements, it’s very bio-individual! When it comes to estrogen, specifically, caffeine appears to affect estrogen differently by racial groups. For example, one study shows that higher caffeine consumption was associated with higher estrogen levels for Asian women. However, the exact reverse effect was found for white women—higher caffeine intake was associated with lower estrogen levels. In Black women, there was a slight rise in estrogen levels, but it wasn’t statistically significant. Ultimately, conflicting reports makes it difficult for medical providers to accurately predict hormonal fluctuations. It’s also important to remember that estrogen levels differ in every woman and change throughout her monthly cycle.
4 WAYS TO MAKE YOUR COFFEE more hormone-friendly
1. CHOOSE ORGANIC COFFEE BEANS.
This goes without saying, but the higher-quality your beans, the fewer pesticides you’re consuming. This is healthier for your body (and the planet). Unfortunately, coffee beans tend to be sprayed with synthetic pesticides and other chemicals that were never intended for human consumption. I love Mommee Coffee (organic, fair-trade, etc.)—plus, they have full-caf, half-caf, and decaf options.
2. DON’T DRINK IT ON AN EMPTY STOMACH.
If you experience things like restlessness, jitters, or anxiety after drinking coffee, you’re not alone. According to Frontiers in Psychiatry, there is evidence to back up a correlation between higher caffeine intake and anxiety symptoms for many people. If you’re someone who feels anxious after drinking coffee or are naturally prone to anxiety or panic attacks on a regular basis, the quicker “hit” of caffeine to your bloodstream from drinking your morning cup on an empty stomach might trigger unwanted symptoms. Therefore, be sure to eat your breakfast first. As mentioned, this is very important for balancing hormones, too!
3. ADD PROTEIN OR HEALTHY FATS TO YOUR CUP.
If you tend to skip breakfast in the morning, this is particularly helpful. By adding protein and / or healthy fats, you’re automatically increasing your daily requirements of those macronutrients. Plus, they aid in sustained and prolonged energy, help manage blood sugar, encourage digestion (coffee can be very acidic!), and can aid in hormone balance.
4. AVOID LOW-FAT OR ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS.
Speaking of adding protein or healthy fats, be mindful of what else you’re putting in your coffee. Commercial low-fat and artificial creamers tend to be highly processed and may contain questionable ingredients. Instead of a non-dairy creamer, consider adding some full-fat cream to your coffee, preferably from grass-fed cows. If you’re going to add sugar, opt for raw honey, stevia, or monk fruit! In terms of caffeine and hormones, being mindful of sugar is key. See here for low-glycemic sugar alternatives.
Images courtesy of Unsplash.
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.