Coffee: The New PCOS Superfood
While many of us reach for a cup of Joe to get us going in the morning or to power through our afternoon, there may be another benefit for women with PCOS to continue their coffee habit: long-term coffee consumption has been routinely associated with both improved glucose tolerance and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes in numerous studies and across a wide variety of populations.1
One 2002 study found that participants who consumed 7 or more cups of coffee per day cut their risk of developing type II diabetes in half, compared to those who consumed 2 or fewer cups per day.2 If the thought of drinking 7 cups of coffee sounds nauseating, the good news is that you don’t have to drink that much (and shouldn’t, due to the negative side effects of that much caffeine) to receive a benefit. Following this 2002 publication, fifteen more epidemiological studies were published that examined the connection between coffee consumption, glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes, as well as numerous experimental studies.1 Some of the intriguing findings are as follows:
Coffee consumption is consistently associated with a lower incidence of impaired glucose tolerance and type II diabetes across studied populations
Several, but not all, studies found an association between enhanced insulin sensitivity and coffee consumption
Even decaffeinated coffee consumption has also been linked to these improvements, suggesting that the positive effects are a result of the other biological components of coffee, not just the caffeine content of coffee
Coffee consumption appears to have a linear relationship with type II diabetes prevention, meaning that the more coffee a person drinks, the less likely they are to develop type II diabetes; however, even just one cup has been linked to a decreased risk1
Drinking coffee is associated with a reduced risk of dying from heart disease and other causes. An observational study in Circulation found people who drank one cup of coffee a day had a 6% reduced risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, neurological diseases and suicide, one to three cups an 8 percent reduced risk, three to five cups a 15 percent reduced risk, and more than five cups a 12 percent reduced risk
If you aren’t already feeling righteous about your coffee addiction, feel free to take a moment to celebrate! Still, there are some practical considerations:
Concern: Coffee consumption has been linked to anxiety, rapid heart rate, insomnia, palpitations, restlessness, headache, diuresis and digestive upset, depending upon how sensitive you are and how much you consume.3 If you have heart disease, there could also be an increased risk for a heart attack.3
Solution? Since many of these negative side affects are due to the caffeine content of coffee, consuming decaffeinated coffee would be an easy way to minimize the risks while still getting the beneficial effects on blood sugar.
Concern: Unfiltered coffee, such as that prepared in a French press or espresso style, can affect blood lipid levels. Specific compounds in unfiltered coffee can actually raise LDL (the “bad” one) levels, which is the cholesterol that one needs to be concerned with keeping at a moderate level for heart disease prevention.3
Solution? fortunately, if you prepare your coffee with a paper filter, you are able to remove these compounds.3 Using an automatic coffee maker or a cone, pour-over method are great options if this is a concern for you.
Concern: Coffee can interfere with the absorption of calcium and iron from plant sources3,4
Solution? consume coffee in reasonable amounts, such as 1-3 cups each day, and away from meal times and supplements if low dietary calcium and iron are a concern for you. Additionally, it has been found that taking your coffee with even just a few tablespoons of milk can offset coffee’s negative effects on calcium.5
Concern: Coffee by itself is low in calories and rich in micronutrients, but many times we prepare it in ways that make it high in empty calories and sugar. In fact, consumption of sugary drinks is highly correlated with incidence of type 2 diabetes, as well as heart disease.6
Solution? be mindful of the sugar and calorie content of your coffee beverage of choice. Try switching to low fat milk instead of whole milk or try reducing the sugar by putting in one less packet or skipping that extra pump or two of flavored syrup. If you are in love with flavored lattes, try making your own versions at home. Used reduced fat milk and pumpkin pie spice to make the Pumpkin Spice Latte or real vanilla extract for a vanilla latte.
So what’s the final verdict? Should we buy stock in Starbucks?
In our book, coffee can certainly be a healthy addition to any dietary pattern when consumed in moderation (in the ballpark of 1-3 cups each day) and switching to decaf when appropriate. However, by itself, coffee is not a magic bullet against type 2 diabetes and it cannot make up for a poor diet and lack of physical activity. Ultimately, the best way women with PCOS can improve blood sugar levels and prevent type 2 diabetes is to eat a balanced diet rich in low-glycemic index carbohydrates, micronutrient-rich fresh fruit and vegetables, and make daily movement and activity a priority.
Laura Nitowski is a senior Nutrition and Dietetics student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she is involved in the Student Dietetics Association and the Sports Nutrition Interest Group. As her first degree is in English, Laura enjoys writing about Nutrition and Research. She is presently assisting Dr. Lynn Monahan and Ms. Angela Grassi with a project that aims to assess global nutrition and exercise practices of women with PCOS. Laura is passionate about women’s health, eating disorder treatment and prevention, and fueling for an active lifestyle (and coffee too!). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Van dam RM. Coffee and type 2 diabetes: from beans to beta-cells. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2006;16(1):69-77.
- Van dam RM, Feskens EJ. Coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Lancet. 2002;360(9344):1477-8.
- Mukamal KJ, Maclure M, Muller JE, Sherwood JB, Mittleman MA. Caffeinated coffee consumption and mortality after acute myocardial infarction. Am Heart J. 2004;147(6):999-1004.
- Bivolarska AV, Gatseva PD, Maneva AI. The Role of Eating Habits on the Iron Status of Pregnant Women. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;:1-7.
- Heaney RP. Effects of caffeine on bone and the calcium economy. Food Chem Toxicol. 2002;40(9):1263-70.
- Hsph.harvard.edu. Soft Drinks and Disease | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 2015. Available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/soft-drinks-and-disease/. Accessed November 5, 2015.
- Hsph.harvard.edu. Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 2015. Available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/preventing-diabetes-full-story/. Accessed November 5, 2015.
- Ming Ding; Ambika Satija; Shilpa N. Bhupathiraju1; Yang Hu; Qi Sun; Jiali Han; Esther Lopez-Garcia; Walter Willett; Rob M. van Dam; Frank B. Hu. Association of Coffee Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality in Three Large Prospective Cohorts. Circulation. 2015;132(24):2305-15.