I made it into my 30’s without ever drinking coffee. No, that’s a lie. I was once given instant coffee by a friend’s Mum when I was a teenager. I remember being so incredibly disappointed that it tasted nothing like it smelled. I never drank it again, convinced the stuff was disgusting.
That all changed one day, post-party. I was badly hungover and my then boyfriend suggested a single shot, caramel latte. The single shot would be enough for my coffee-virgin taste buds. The caramel syrup would provide sugar guaranteed to cure my hangover. It didn’t get rid of my hangover, nonetheless I was officially hooked. Thus began a coffee habit that has continued to this day, almost without interruption.
Anyone who finds themselves in a situation where fertility is challenged will be familiar with the process of looking at everything they do in a new light. What we eat, drink and put on our skin or hair gets a makeover. Whether the issue is with us or our partner, we want to maximise our chances of getting pregnant. So we cull. We clear out cupboards. We remove parabens and sulfates from our body care products; teflon and plastics from our kitchen. Often caffeine is the last thing to go, because it is so hard to give up and there is endless debate about whether or not it truly is an issue.
Here’s how the research is reported:
- Caffeine is associated with difficulty conceiving, with one study showing that those who drank more than 500mg of caffeine a day had a significantly longer wait to get pregnant than those who didn’t.
- A study published in Fertility & Sterility indicates that drinking caffeinated drinks during early pregnancy (before you might know you’re pregnant) increases the risk of early pregnancy loss and miscarriage generally.
- Caffeine can disrupt ovulation by increasing cortisol levels, which can lead to a “progesterone steal” or disruption in production of progesterone.
- Coffee depletes nutrients needed for healthy ovulation and hormone regulation, most notably magnesium, b vitamins and folate.
A broader perspective:
- If you read the studies in full, which I have, the conclusions are not so clear.
- In some cases, the groups of women and men in the studies are quite small (the smaller the group, the less reliable the data).
- In other cases, the researchers were looking at more than just caffeine – they also look at multivitamin and alcohol intake, smoking and exercise as well as caffeine. There are all kinds of models and methods for taking these other factors into account, but none are entirely reliable.
- The most compelling study, which looked at coffee intake across Europe, found that high intakes of coffee delayed conception. The amount of caffeine in a shot of espresso, latte or cappuccino varies hugely depending on method of extraction and variety of bean, but the conclusion of that study was that 1 regular cup of coffee made no impact whatsoever.
- Debating the merits of coffee makes for great headlines and blog posts. There are numerous benefits to coffee consumption. The benefits may outweigh some of the risks for some people, so it’s a wonderful topic for stirring emotion and debate.
Remember that everyone has a bias and will report their findings accordingly. My bias is that I enjoy a single cup of coffee every day and I want to find research that supports my daily habit. If I look hard enough, I can find it and the same is true for those who have a bias against coffee. Question the motives of everything you read, including this blog post.
Every single study I have read acknowledges that there are other studies finding the opposite to be the case and declaring that further research is needed. If we are to play it very safe and assume that coffee interferes with fertility, there is still no indication that a single cup of great coffee has any impact. If you enjoy coffee and don’t notice any obvious negative side effects, enjoying and savouring one excellent cup of coffee daily is most likely perfectly safe.
If you have PCOS, endometriosis, an auto-immune condition, adrenal fatigue or a digestive issue, there is an argument for completely eliminating coffee. There is certainly sufficient clinical evidence to support the theory that coffee can interfere with digestion and disrupt hormone balance. If you fit this category, completely eliminating coffee is probably wise, at least while you are healing.
Take comfort in the truth that no single thing is all powerful. Coffee is not solely responsible for your fertility issues. There are so many factors that affect our fertility and while coffee might be one; sugar, stress, pollution & sleep are others. If completely cutting out coffee makes your super stressed, it might be wiser to enjoy a single cup a day. Every single small change you make has an impact on your fertility. I think that’s worth celebrating.
If you adore coffee, cannot see how you could possibly give it up and yet feel immense guilt every time you have a cuppa Jo – there are options.
- If it has to be the full caffeine option, choose Arabica beans as they have just 1.1% caffeine. Avoid filter coffee, this method of extraction is most efficient at getting the caffeine out of the bean. Instead choose espresso, which will deliver the lowest amount of caffeine.
- For decaf, choose coffee that has been decaffeinated using the “Swiss-washing” technique. This process uses water, rather than chemicals so is a much healthier way to drink decaf. There will still be a small amount of caffeine in the coffee, but it will be hugely reduced.
- Drink a single cup of excellent coffee a day. Savour it. Luxuriate in it. Turn your phone to Do Not Disturb while you drink it.
- Eat something when you drink that cup of coffee. Skip the sugary muffin or biscuit which will just spike your blood sugars and increase cortisol levels. Instead, make the snack something that is high in fat and protein, like nuts, avocado, or coconut yoghurt… This will reduce any impact the coffee may have on blood sugar levels and related hormones.
- Remember that coffee isn’t the only thing that contains caffeine. Tea, cola, chocolate and energy drinks also contribute, so keep en eye on caffeine sneaking into our diet that way too.
Remember, you are in charge and every healthy choice you make (perhaps including one delicious cup of coffee a day) can support your health.
I’d love to hear from you! Are you a coffee addict? Have you tried to give up and struggle? What have you learned from this blog? Share your experiences in the comments below or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.