Move over THC; caffeine is the most commonly consumed psychoactive drug globally.
And it's no secret that it can have powerful effects on our human bodies.
But what about the impact of caffeine on menopause?
Even though the average age of menopause in the United States is 51, we can spend up to ten years preceding menopause dealing with fluctuating hormones.
But, then, the remaining one-third of your life is post-menopause, a time of potential flat-lined hormones.
In other words, if you are a coffee drinker, chances are by the time you're in menopause, you've been consuming caffeine for at least 30 years.
Growing up with an Italian grandma, I learned how to dunk an Anisette biscotti into an espresso since childhood...so, when asked if I would ever give up coffee, the answer is a resounding NO!
The biscotti on the other hand, yes.
As a result, add another 15 years for me to the coffee drinking timeline!
To understand why giving up the excess sugar at this menopausal time is essential, read my blog post or podcast on metabolic flexibility.
Caffeine and Menopause
According to the Mayo Clinic, caffeine consumption, up to 400mg, "appears to be a safe" amount of caffeine intake in one day.
This amount is typically found in the following:
- 4 cups of brewed coffee
- 10 cans of cola
- 2 caffeinated energy drinks
Not only is this a high amount, but the negative impact of consuming 10 cans of cola in one day (equivalent to eating 93 teaspoons of sugar) would probably put you into diabetic shock or set you up good for adult onset diabetes.
Certainly with that amount of sugar, obesity is to follow with a clear path to metabolic syndrome.
As a result, feeling shaky, having diarrhea, and unmanageable glucose is not for the faint of heart..
How much caffeine is enough for a menopausal woman?
Unfortunately, to date, the topic of caffeine and menopause is very under-researched.
A survey conducted in 2015, using the Menopause Health Questionnaire, assessed the connection between caffeine and hot flashes in menopausal women.
It concluded that caffeine users experienced more hot flushes and menopausal symptoms than those that didn't consume caffeine.
Whereas those that drank caffeinated beverages and were current smokers had an even higher severity of bothersome hot flashes, mood swings, and night sweats.
Wake Up, Sleepy Head
These are the two parts of my day that I love...prepping the coffee machine before I go to bed and waking up to my home smelling like a coffee house.
For some, like myself, coffee is ritualistic, albeit addictive.
Even though I only consume 1-2 cups in the morning, going without it can cause me a headache and feeling a bit cranky.
Others I know, need it to get their bowels going.
That is to say, a clear indication of withdrawal for me and a sluggish digestion for the others.
What Makes Caffeine Addictive
Over 10 years ago, the 5th edition of the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), a manual used to diagnose mental disorders, concluded that caffeine withdrawal is a mental disorder.
Yes, a mental disorder.
The DSM chart shows caffeine addiction is second to alcohol and comes before cannabis.
Read more about the benefits of cannabis and menopause.
Caffeine is linked to the release of dopamine in the brain.
Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter.
To clarify, neuro means neuron or nerve cell, and transmitter means "to communicate."
Therefore, making dopamine a transmitter of pleasure, motivation, and satisfaction from the brain to the body.
As estrogen declines, so does our ability to produce dopamine and serotonin, two important "feel good" hormones.
Therefore, caffeine and menopause might be a good fit, for some.
We receive dopamine hits from so many things besides caffeine daily, such as:
- getting a "like" on a social media post
- receiving a smile
- a hug from someone you love
- when you meditate
Research studies show that dopamine itself is not addictive; however, the act or ritual that creates the dopamine to be released is what creates the addiction.
Most importantly, understanding that addiction is a behavior that leads to the release of certain neurotransmitters.
The brain and body like the behavior because it "feels good" chemically.
As for me, the ritual of that first cup of coffee in the morning makes me feel excited and motivated to start the day.
Caffeine and Bowel Movements
One of the most common reasons people seek coffee in the morning is to help them have a bowel movement.
In fact, 3 out of 10 people use coffee daily for this reason.
Hormonal changes and fluctuations in blood sugar for women undergoing the menopause transition can wreak havoc on the gut.
Some adverse effects on the bowels can include:
- sluggish digestion
- acid reflux/heart burn
- weight gain
Caffeine acts as a stimulant and makes your large intestines contract more quickly.
It also directly affects the rectum by relaxing the muscles that keep the anus closed.
When the rectum relaxes, it becomes easier to pass stool.
If you are curious about how hormone fluctuations can cause constipation during menopause, read here.
Caffeine on Athletics and Alertness
Beyond caffeine to support bowel function, many people consume caffeinated beverages to boost energy levels.
Considering that caffeine is a stimulant, it has an effect by directly opening blood vessels which increases blood flow and improves circulation.
This is the reason many sports drinks contain caffeine.
Increased blood flow means improved oxygen consumption to the muscle tissue.
As a result leading to more power, energy, and stamina to support high intensity exercises.
Caffeine can help your muscles heal after a workout when consumed with a carbohydrate, according to the American Physiological Society.
A chemical compound in the brain called adenosine, which promotes sleepiness and suppresses arousal, gets blocked when taking in caffeine.
Therefore, caffeine can "wake up the brain" and make us more alert.
With our decline of hormones and it's impact on our mood, cognition and brain fog, caffeine can be good for it's boosting capabilities in menopause.
Caffeine is an alkaloid compound naturally occurring in most flowering plants that make up some of the teas and most of the coffees we drink.
An alkaloid is a bitter compound and toxin a plant uses as a natural herbicide and insecticide.
In addition, alkaloids are essential not just to plants but have played a significant role to humans in the creation of medicines.
Medicinal alkaloids can be used for the following:
- anesthetics: sedatives or painkillers
- antibacterial: stops the growth or spread of bacteria
- anti-inflammatory: that which reduces inflammation or swelling
- analgesic: pain reducer
The most common alkaloids are:
Coffee Consumption On Our System
Many of us drink coffee daily.
Whereas daily consumption of caffeine (or any chemical substance) makes us create a tolerance.
Our body weight, fat mass, age, and hormones can significantly determine how our body metabolizes caffeine.
The intestinal tract readily absorbs 99% of caffeine within 45 minutes of liquid consumption.
It crosses the blood-brain barrier soon after it enters the bloodstream, which gives us a quick "pick me up" or the feeling of being more alert.
Caffeine is metabolized in the liver and is cleared and excreted in the urine within 8-10 hours.
Current smokers, use of oral contraceptives, including hormone replacement therapy, and lack of physical activity can negatively affect how quickly caffeine is cleared from our system.
Caffeine and Perimenopausal Women
Perimenopause, also known as the menopausal transition, is a time of hormonal decline and aging.
Aging, although a natural process, is an inflammatory event.
Therefore, by having the right management strategies, a perimenopausal woman can slow down the effects of INFLAM-AGING.
As you enter your mid to late 40s, you are potentially moving into the height of your career and/or raising pubescent children, for many, typically at the same time.
You might also be helping to take care of your aging parents.
Women, at this time, begin to feel the detrimental effect of the over production of cortisol and are stuck in the "fight or flight" loop of stress.
The loop of inflam-aging has compounding adverse effect on our entire system.
Caffeine and postmenopausal Women
According to a 6-year cross-sectional study, caffeine appeared to worsen the severity of hot flashes for menopausal women.
However, a study by the National Institute on Aging revealed that thinking skills and memory were improved in those that consumed caffeine, showing some cognitive health benefits to an aging population.
Lifestyle factors, such as the following, can all interfere with the way the body absorbs caffeine:
- partaking in alcohol consumption
- eating spicy foods
- being a current smoker
All of these can make one need more caffeine to utilize its effects.
The more caffeine consumed, the higher the level of homocysteine, an amino acid, in the blood.
When homocysteine levels are high, it can cause damage to the inside of the arteries, leaving one more vulnerable to heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Estrogen acts as a cardio-protectant so with it's decline after menopause, women are already at a higher risk of heart disease.
In other words, having high homocysteine levels is like adding gasoline to a fire.
Coffee and Your Genetic Makeup
Just like the color of your eyes comes from the genetic traits of your parents or grandparents, so does your ability to metabolize coffee.
I know this sounds crazy, but it has to do with gene expression.
Some people feel the significant effects of caffeine, whereas others feel jumpy, anxious, and awful.
Every human carries a "caffeine gene," which regulates an enzyme that helps us to metabolize or break down the caffeine in our system.
Some of us are fast metabolizers and can utilize caffeine quickly and efficiently.
Others are slow at metabolizing caffeine and feel the effects of caffeine for more substantial and longer amounts of time.
You know how you feel when drinking caffeinated beverages.
Still, you want to be 100% sure.
In that case, you can have yourself tested through 23 and me, Genex diagnostics, or other laboratories offering caffeine sensitivity testing.
Caffeine, Hot flashes And Night Sweats
If hot flushes and night sweats drive you crazy, it's best to avoid caffeine.
More research needs to be conducted in this area.
Still, surveys taken by menopausal women indicate that caffeine does seem to aggravate these symptoms.
In addition, some of the latest research shows that hot flushes might actually be linked to abnormalities in the blood vessels themselves, leaving women with a higher risk factor for heart disease.
Caffeine and bone Loss
The Mayo Clinic ran a study of the effects of caffeine and bone loss in menopausal women.
Research showed that women who drank 2 - 3 cups of brewed coffee a day and had a calcium intake lower than 800mg per day, experienced accelerated bone loss from the spine and overall body.
Therefore, if you want to continue with your morning brew, increasing your calcium intake to more than 800mg per day is a good idea.
The Healthiest Coffee
With all the coffee on the market today, the question becomes, what should you look for when choosing the healthiest coffee?
How to choose the healthiest roasted coffee beans:
- Free of pesticides
- Mold and mycotoxin free
- Properly roasted to enhance all health benefits
- Nitrogen-flushed packaging to maximize the antioxidants found in the coffee beans
- Quick shipping after it has been roasted (unless you are an expert at roasting them yourself!)
Free of Pesticides: An Endocrine Disruptor
Insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides are all chemicals that kill insects and harmful organisms on plants or crops.
Toxic chemicals are absorbed into the plant (or any crop where they are being used).
They interfere with the nervous system of the insect it is intended to kill.
Think of it as a nerve gas in warfare.
Depending on potency and strength, these chemicals can last 16 - 60 days in the environment.
Unfortunately, many crops, including coffee beans, contain pesticide residue.
When you consume this residue for years, the toxins can disrupt many systems of our bodies, including the endocrine system that regulates our hormones.
Endocrine disruptors can also come from:
- plastic packaging
- body sprays and lotions
As we age and accumulate toxins in our systems, choosing quality products that might add less to the bioburden becomes more critical.
If coffee is the first thing that touches your lips in the morning, then choosing a bean that doesn't add stress to your system is a good start.
Organic coffee beans are certified to be grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
When the coffee plant is grown and harvested without neurotoxins, it allows the true benefits of the bean to be enhanced, which includes:
- B2, B3, Magnesium
- phenol compounds which science reports that may improve glucose metabolism
Certified organic coffee comes from a crop that has not been exposed to pesticides for a minimum of 3 years.
The growers ensure a sufficient barrier between the organic and neighboring non-organic crops if grown or harvested nearby.
The farmers use sustainable crop rotation to keep the healthy soil nutrient dense.
Mold and Mycotoxin Free
Most of the world's coffee is grown in damp, humid climates.
These environments are the perfect breeding grounds for all types of mold.
Most importantly, the outer layer must be removed when the coffee bean is being processed, typically by a water-washing process.
If the beans aren't dried well enough after this process, they are left in a humid environment leading to a high potential for mold growth.
Mycotoxins are toxic chemical compounds released by mold spores.
Here are some symptoms of mold sensitivity related to coffee:
- racing heart
- feeling irritable
Dry roasting coffee can typically heat the bean to kill the mold.
However, even the slightest residual mold spore can wreak havoc for those with mold sensitivity.
Properly Roasted Coffee Beans
After they are selectively picked, they are soaked and washed, and their outer pulp is stripped away, leaving behind the pit or the bean.
These beans get dried, resulting in a green color devoid of significant taste.
It is often noted to taste like a cross between herbal tea and flavorless coffee.
The roasting process draws out the flavor and gives the bean a dark brown coloring.
Nitrogen Flushed Packaging
Nitrogen gas is used to remove oxygen from packaged foods.
It sinks to the bottom and pushes oxygen out.
As a result, leaving nitrogen gas behind to cushion the contents of the beans.
Nitrogen is a benign gas that doesn't react with coffee beans, so the flavor, texture, and freshness are maintained.
It also helps to remove any moisture or water vapors, which keeps the beans dry and less able to grow bacteria or mold.
Quick Use After Roasting
Most coffee roasters suggest using their beans anywhere from 3 to 21 days after the roasting process.
Roasting is what gives coffee its robust flavor.
Therefore using beans past their expiration date will result in "not so great" tasting coffee.
Once you get your newly roasted beans, you should immediately store them in an airtight container.
This will ensure a longer "freshness" life.
My Personal Caffeine and Menopause Brew
I personally had my genes tested and am one of the lucky ones that can metabolize caffeine well.
Just because I am a quick metabolizer, I still opt for the cleanest and healthiest bean I can find.
In my search, I came across Purity coffee.
Not only is their coffee delicious, it also checks the box for me in the "how to be healthy through menopause" department.
They are certified as a specialty grade which only 1% of all organic coffee purveyors are titled.
They instill biodynamic and regenerative farming practices.
Their beans USDA Organic specialty grade 100% arabica coffee, free of pesticides and mycotoxins.
My go-to blend is called "Protect" because it has high levels of bioactive compounds which promote antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic and cardioprotective qualities.
To get a 10% discount off your purchase with Purity coffee, use the code SundalaWellness at check out.
Caffeine and menopause Summary
Caffeine can exacerbate specific menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings, so it's best to limit caffeine consumption if you are actively experiencing them.
If you drink caffeinated beverages, try to do so earlier in the day and avoid caffeine late in the evening which could trip up your nightly melatonin production.
You might also want to experiment with Swiss water processed decaf coffee or tea, which can still provide the flavor you crave without the unwanted side effects.
Caffeine doesn't have to be completely off-limits!
Just be mindful of your caffeine quantity and quality especially if you have a sensitivity.
PRODUCTS I USE
Chemex Pour Over
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