Caffeine and PCOS: Benefits and Risks

Do you have PCOS and rely on a morning or afternoon dose of caffeine to keep you going throughout the day? If so, you are not alone – roughly 90 percent of Americans consume caffeine daily – and you may be reaping more benefits for managing your PCOS than you might think. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, caffeine is the most commonly ingested psychoactive drug with numerous health benefits. While caffeine may have some benefits for PCOS, there are important things to be aware of. This article reviews the benefits and risks of caffeine for PCOS and what you should know.

Health Benefits of Caffeine

Caffeine can be found in the seeds, fruit and leaves of a plant, and it can increase your alertness, vigilance and productivity throughout the day.[2] The average adult consumes 135 mg caffeine each day, which is approximately the caffeine content in one and a half cups of coffee. A limit of 400 mg/day is suggested for the average individual. When comparing standard servings of caffeinated beverages and supplements, coffee, energy drinks and caffeine tablets tend to contain the most caffeine, tea contains an intermediate content, and soft drinks have the lowest content.

In contrast to past concerns regarding the link between caffeine intake and the onset of chronic diseases, caffeine’s booming health benefits have emerged in recent years. Caffeine is loaded with compounds known as phytochemicals. These compounds are effective in reducing oxidative stress, helping the gut microbiome, and regulating the metabolism of glucose and fat within the body. Additionally, caffeine consumption has been linked to a decreased risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and type II diabetes. Modest caffeine consumption can certainly be included in a healthy lifestyle.[4]

Health Benefits of Caffeine for PCOS

Now, you may be wondering, what specific benefits may caffeine provide for disease prevention and everyday health for people with PCOS? Caffeine can provide alertness and has been shown to help reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, which women with PCOS have been found to be at a higher risk for.  By temporarily suppressing appetite, increasing an individual’s basal metabolic rate and raising the thermogenesis of food, caffeine has been found to help with energy balance.[5]  The New England Journal of Medicine shows that caffeinated coffee does not raise an individual’s risk for cancer or heart disease, and in fact, the incidence of chronic disease has actually been reduced in individuals who consume 3-5 cups per day.[7]

Coffee and PCOS

Let’s examine coffee for PCOS in particular. Coffee is composed of over 1000 chemicals, and a modest dose may increase your alertness, energy and concentration.[9] Coffee intake has been linked to a lower risk for type II diabetes, and studies have observed an inverse relationship between coffee intake and coronary artery disease, stroke, and cardiovascular-related death. Coffee consumption has also been associated with a lower risk for fibrosis, gallstones, kidney stones, and some cancers – including skin, breast, prostate, endometrial and gallbladder cancer.[10] These benefits of caffeine are great for women with PCOS who remain at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and endometrial cancer. Surpassing all other benefits, cohort studies conducted around the world suggest that a coffee intake of 2-5 cups per day is linked to lower mortality.[11]

Tea and PCOS

Now, let’s explore the medicinal action of tea in relation to PCOS. A catechin in green tea, (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate, has the ability to lower androgens and other hormones. As a potent antioxidant, green tea intake in women struggling with PCOS has been shown to lower levels of fasting insulin and free testosterone.[13] Along with other high antioxidant rich foods, green tea has also been shown to reduce inflammation in women with PCOS.

The Negative Health Impact of Caffeine

As with just about anything, too much caffeine can have detrimental effects on our health, especially for those with PCOS. Women with PCOS have been shown to have higher rates of anxiety. High caffeine consumption for people with PCOS may trigger “anxiety, restlessness, nervousness, dysphoria, insomnia, excitement, psychomotor agitation, and rambling flow of thought and speech.”[14] These effects may transpire with a caffeine consumption of 1.2 g or more; ingestion of 10-14 g may have fatal effects. Fortunately, caffeine poisoning from coffee and tea is uncommon due to the small doses present in these beverages.[15] A study that examined the serious effects of coffee intake found that acute coffee consumption largely increases blood pressure; it also suggests that coffee intake may induce GI upset.[16] If you tend to struggle with anxiety or sleeping through the night, your problems may be rooted in your caffeine consumption. You may want to consider a decaffeinated option for that afternoon cup, as ingesting caffeine later in the day may negatively affect your quality of sleep; moreover, larger doses of caffeine, typically more than 400 mg/day, may stimulate anxiety.[17]

Depending on the individual, caffeine may increase the stress hormone cortisol by elevating production of adrenal cortisol levels. Cortisol levels can increase insulin levels in PCOS. When levels of cortisol were measured in individuals who had caffeine, those who had caffeine in the afternoon saw higher cortisol levels than those who had it in the morning. A cortisol tolerance was observed with regular caffeine consumption.The exact impact of caffeine in the PCOS population remains unknown.

Caffeine and Pregnancy

What about caffeine intake during pregnancy? How does caffeine affect the mother and baby? Caffeine passes the placenta, and the slower metabolism of caffeine in both the mother and fetus may lead to high levels of caffeine in the bloodstream. These elevated caffeine levels may lead to decreased blood flow and oxygen levels, ultimately raising the risk for miscarriage and a lower birth weight. Thus, greater caffeine consumption in pregnant women has been linked to both increased risk for miscarriage and a lower birth weight.

A study that investigated the association between caffeine and coffee intake and the risk of pregnancy loss found that for each 150 mg/day increase in caffeine intake, the risk of pregnancy loss rose by 19%; in addition, the risk of pregnancy loss rose by 8% for every 2 cup/day increase in coffee intake.[18] In general, it is said that pregnant women may safely consume up to 200 mg caffeine each day.[19]  However, women struggling with PCOS, who are inherently at a greater risk for miscarriages and preterm deliveries, may want to exercise greater caution or even consider cutting out caffeine entirely during the first trimester of pregnancy.

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Caffeine and Fertility

Numerous studies have also explored the effects of caffeine consumption and fertility. Women who struggle with PCOS must be careful when consuming caffeine while trying to conceive. Many studies have found an association between caffeine consumption and greater risk for decreased fertility. One study in particular found that a coffee intake greater than one cup per day significantly lowered the likelihood of conception; moreover, the women whose daily consumption was greater than one cup became half as likely to conceive. Thus, increased caffeine consumption in women with PCOS significantly reduces the possibility of pregnancy.[20]

Caffeine Amounts in Popular Foods and Beverages

The following tables may serve as helpful tools to gauge your caffeine intake. Through an examination of the caffeine content in commonly consumed foods and beverages, you can decide whether or not you should increase or decrease your daily consumption in an attempt to optimize the benefits caffeine may provide for your health.

Chocolate Serving Size Caffeine content (mg)
Hershey’s Milk chocolate bar 1 bar 9
Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate bar 1 bar 31
Kit-Kat 1 bar 6
Reese’s Peanut butter cup 1 cup 1
Twix  2-oz 4

 

Drink Ounces Caffeine content (mg)
Brewed coffee 8 96
Decaf Brewed coffee 8 2
Espresso 1 64
Decaf espresso 1 0
Instant coffee 8 62
Instant decaf coffee 8 2
Brewed black tea 8 47
Brewed decaf black tea 8 2
Brewed green tea 8 28
Bottled tea 8 19
Citrus soda 8 0
Cola 8 22
Root beer 8 0
Energy drink 8 29
Energy Shot 1 215

***Data Table from Mayo Clinic

 

Common Coffee Shop Coffee or Tea Drink Size Caffeine content (mg)
Starbucks Coffee, Pike Place Roast venti, 20 oz. 410
Starbucks Coffee, Blonde Roast grande, 16 oz. 360
Starbucks Coffee, Pike Place Roast grande, 16 oz. 310
Dunkin’ Coffee large, 20 oz. 270
Starbucks Coffee, Dark Roast grande, 16 oz. 260
Starbucks Caffè Americano grande, 16 oz. 225
Dunkin’ Coffee medium, 14 oz. 210
Starbucks Caffè Mocha—hot or iced grande, 16 oz. 175
Dunkin’—Latte or Cappuccino medium, 14 oz. 166
Starbucks Espresso doppio, 1.5 oz. 150
Starbucks—Caffè Latte or Cappuccino grande, 16 oz. 150
Starbucks Chai Latte—hot or iced grande, 16 oz. 95
Starbucks Coffee Frappuccino grande, 16 oz. 95
Starbucks Matcha Green Tea Latte—hot or iced grande, 16 oz. 80
Starbucks Decaf Coffee, Pike Place Roast grande, 16 oz. 25

***Data Table from Center for Science in the Public Interest

Yogurt and Ice cream Size Caffeine content (mg)
Ben & Jerry’s Brewed to Matter Ice Cream 2/3 cup 66
Ben & Jerry’s Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz! Ice Cream 2/3 cup 65
Dannon Lowfat Coffee Yogurt 5.3 oz. 40
Häagen-Dazs Heaven Cold Brew Espresso Chip Ice Cream 2/3 cup 30
Breyers Coffee Frozen Dairy Dessert 2/3 cup 20
Dreyer’s or Edy’s Slow Churned Coffee Ice Cream 2/3 cup 14
Chobani Coffee & Cream Greek Yogurt 5.3 oz. 3

***Data Table from Center for Science in the Public Interest

Bottom line of Caffeine and PCOS:

Caffeine may be included in a healthy lifestyle for PCOS, but moderation is key when it comes to preventing negative side effects. Regular and modest caffeine consumption may increase your productivity, help prevent chronic disease, and regulate your metabolism and energy balance.  In order to avoid or worsen anxiety and restlessness, chances of increasing blood pressure, and trouble sleeping at night, people with PCOS should consume caffeine in moderation. For most people, 400 mg/day is a safe limit of caffeine. Pregnant and lactating women with PCOS must be extra cautious of their caffeine intake and keep consumption to a minimum or avoid altogether, especially during the first trimester. Lastly, due to the risk for decreased fertility, women with PCOS should also lower their caffeine intake while trying to conceive. Keep these pros and cons in mind the next time you reach for some caffeine to help you feel your best energized self.

 

Hi! My name is Adriana Gildone, and I am a senior Comprehensive Science major at Villanova University. I plan to obtain a Master of Science in Nutrition after graduating from Villanova next spring. I am interested in studying women and children’s health, particularly in regard to disease prevention and eating disorder treatment. With a passion for nutrition and wellness, I love to cook, bake and be active. In my free time, I also enjoy babysitting and traveling.

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