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Caffeine and PCOS: The Facts

As I sit writing this article, I’m sipping my regular morning of coffee. I do enjoy my morning coffee and I would be reluctant to give it up. But I do sometimes wonder how helpful this delicious cup of caffeine is to my PCOS and it’s symptoms. It is also a question that I am often asked. So, I thought that I would do a bit of research into it and here is what I found.

Coffee has it’s pros and cons

It is unsurprising that caffeine (and coffee in particular) is a polarizing topic with some people saying that it has very clear benefits and can be enjoyed in moderation and those that say that it should be avoided. So, I’m going to present the research that I’ve come across and you can decide, based on where you are at and your PCOS symptoms, whether you should give up coffee or not.

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Coffee and Type 2 Diabetes

Caffeine-and-PCOS-diabetesThere has been a lot of very interesting research that has shown that people who drink coffee have a lower risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes (1 , 2). This is really interesting because, as you know, women with PCOS are also at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

At the same time, however, coffee does have an immediate effect on insulin sensitivity and can make your body insulin resistant soon after drinking a cup. So, the study refers to people who are regular and habitual coffee drinkers.

Interestingly, these positive benefits were seen in both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee drinkers, suggesting that it may not be the caffeine in the coffee causing these benefits.

Coffee and SHBG

Sex hormone-binding globulin or SHBG is an important protein that is produced by the liver and is of particular interest for women with PCOS. Its role is to pick up and bind to testosterone, dihydrotestosterone and estradiol (estrogen) in the blood. (3) As soon as these hormones have been bound to SHBG, they become inactive and don’t have any effect on us.

Women with PCOS tend to have low levels of SHBG. This means that there is more active testosterone and estrogen in our body than we need or should have, resulting in hormone imbalances. So, we need to try to raise those levels of SHBG so that there is less testosterone and estrogen to wreak havoc on our symptoms.

Conveniently, one of the ways to raise levels of SHBG is by, you guessed it, drinking caffeinated coffee (4).

Coffee and Adrenal Fatigue

The adrenal glands play an important role in women with PCOS. You see, the adrenal gland produces hormones that eventually become testosterone. They also produce a small amount of testosterone themselves. In fact, 50% of women with PCOS have high adrenal androgens. So, we need to be mindful of looking after those adrenal glands (5).

Now, caffeine stimulates the adrenals and can lead to adrenal fatigue, where your adrenal glands are burnt out and you’re running on empty. So, maybe coffee isn’t such a good idea for women with PCOS?

Caffeine and Fertility

Caffeine-and-PCOS-fertilityThere is some research that suggests that caffeine consumption (>300 – 500 mg or about 4 cups of coffee per day) is linked to decreased fertility although researchers aren’t sure why this is the case (6). Bearing in mind that PCOS directly impacts on our fertility already, I’m not sure that we need to be adding to our fertility problems with our coffee addiction.

So, those are the main things to consider when it comes to caffeine and PCOS. While it may help prevent Type 2 Diabetes and increase SHBG, it can also lead to adrenal fatigue and fertility issues (which we already have).

Now, I am not trying to conceive (I thankfully have 2 miracle children) but I am still very aware of my PCOS and want to make sure that it remains well-managed. In light of my own research, I am very seriously considering giving up coffee, if only to see if I feel any better without it.

What About You?

I think it’s up to every woman to decide if they should give up caffeine or not. There seems to be pros and cons of coffee consumption and you may choose to continue drinking coffee, depending on whether you’re trying to conceive or how bad your PCOS symptoms are

So, I am going to give up caffeine for the next 30 days (after I finish this last cup of coffee ☺ ). I still really enjoy the taste of coffee so I will have some decaffeinated coffee if I really feel like some (and I will still get the benefits of a lower chance of Type 2 Diabetes).

You can either go cold turkey or wean yourself off caffeine. I am going to go cold turkey. I suspect that I may be a little grumpy over the next couple of days and I may also have withdrawal symptoms for a couple of days.

So, how about it? Are you up for a 30 Day Caffeine Free Challenge? Let me know in the comments if you’re in! I for one can’t believe how good I feel 🙂

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Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and PCOS expert who has been a leader in the online PCOS space for over 8 years. Tarryn has the support of leading clinicians from around the world who support her scientific approach to understanding and talking about PCOS this includes all medical journals and ongoing research. You can read more about Tarryn and the team here.

34 Responses

34 Responses

  1. A lot of the stuff I’ve read talk about COFFEE and insulin resistance and that it affects it negatively…

    I know it says the results were pretty much the same for caffeinated and decaffeinated but the question we have is CAFFEINE and insulin resistance and not coffee.

  2. I’ve been diagnosed after no luck trying to conceive over the last 5 years. I’ve always had regular periods (about once every 6 months I’ll be 1-2 weeks late but have only ever missed once).
    We’re still trying to conceive and manage the symptoms (excessive hair growth and weight difficulties mainly.) I’ve always been a tea drinker but have read that spearmint tea may also be useful, especially with the excessive hair growth. Just starting trying 2 cups of liquorice and spearmint tea a day (which I won’t lie, tastes like rubber to me), and one cup of green tea per day and upping the water. Diet wise, going the old protein and veg route. Doing this as a ’30 day challenge’ so very interested to see if this could be a long term lifestyle change that actually helps

  3. HI it was really important to write this feedback. So I am a 40-year-old who has suffered from cystic acne and hirsutism for over 20 years. I manage now very well through diet and I was very happy with my skin until I bought a pod coffee machine before Christmas, within a month my skin was angry, red, cystic and I didn’t realise it was the coffee until I looked back at old photos and realised the only thing I had changed was adding coffee into my diet. I was addicted, having up to 4 cups a day.

    I decided to cut out coffee for 2 weeks to test it and see what happened to my skin, day one I had horrendous headaches and migraine, cleared the next day, then my skin started to heal. After two weeks it was looking so much better, so I carried on and did 4 weeks and my skin had no cysts or active spots and looked calm and glowing again. Also, the hair growth is reduced and not as thick. For me I know coffee/caffeine affects my skin, it dehydrates it and makes it cross! I really would avoid if you know diet affects your symptoms, I drink Macha green tea now for a caffeine fix, no issues at all as it’s full of antioxidants. good luck x

    1. Im on birthcontrol and gave been for 8 months. I haven’t bleed or spotted in a long time. Lately I’ve been drinking green tea and I have been spotting. Is there a correlation between the two?

  4. Hi Tarryn!!

    I am doing the 5 day kickstart this week, and this was one of the grey area for me as well. To drink coffee or to not drink coffee…. that is the question!

    After doing both back and forth for years, I have to say I do feel better without caffeine. However, I think there is so much merit in not limiting yourself, and if a cup of joe each morning makes your day better, which it does for me, I just have to!

    In terms of the insulin spike though, I do definitely notice that, but only if I give into it, if that makes sense. Do you notice that, too? If I make a healthy breakfast choice after coffee, I am okay for the rest of the day. I think denying that pumpkin bread with your coffee is the key, personally, going for the eggs and kraut instead.

  5. I have hormone problems like PCOS, they call it PCOS but really i should be called Adrenal Dysfunction Syndrome an
    ll of a sudden i’ve been feeling better the past few months but i decided to try and see if i can make myself feel even better, i have the whole lot of no periods, excessive hair, low energy, fatigue, fogginess, i can’t do much at all without starting to feel weak and a bit dizzy if i don’t stop or crouch down and stand back up and start to feel brain dead, but it’s not as bad for some odd reason but i ain’t complaining lol. I started to cut out coffee and i’ve taken the wein approach because there is no way i can go cold turkey straight away and i definitely feel my concentration is quite better,.

    My fatigue isn’t as bad, neither is how depressed i feel and i have quite a bit more energy, i thought coffee was helping but i was wrong. I’ve started at cutting out 1 cup every 2 days and i only drank 1 cup a day as it is but i think it was too much for me and not helping my hormone problems at all… i want to get it to 1 cup every other day next but i don’t think i’m ready yet, god i love coffee, i love the smell and the taste ugh… nothing like it but i know i have to keep going and gradually coming off it, even 1 cup a day is a bit addictive, so far i’ve done well cutting out 1 cup every 2 days so that’s 2 cups a week, the struggle starts when you try to put it down to 1 cup every other day. I get my hormone problems from my mums side of the family, quite a few of the females have had some sort of hormone problems and it affects me more with excessive hair, fatigue, depression, anxiety, restlessness, never being satisfied with a thing… low energy and i go weak and wiped out very easily if i try to do anything even a bit more physically demanding, i just hope i feel more and more myself (whoever that is), the more i cut out coffee, i’ll have to see how it goes.

  6. I have been drinking herbal tea with caffeine in it for 3 months now and it has drastically improved my pcos condition. I have never been a coffee drinker and always drank herbal tea. I did not start drinking the tea with the knowledge or intention of it improving my pcos, I just wanted to try the tea. I am currently drinking organic, orange, cranberry, black tea (loose leaf). I also exercise regularly and eat a very healthy vegan diet for 5 years now.

  7. Hi,

    Did you drink coffee when you got pregnant or did you stop drinking it when you were trying to conceive?

  8. I was a huge coffee drinker and gave it up for over a year, but I found restricting myself caused me more stress. I did have more natural energy, but I’m having it again, I’m experimenting with some research done by scientists that say it’s more about the time we drink coffee that can cause issues. For example 8am is when our bodies are creating the most amount of cortisol so we are literally caffeinated anyway. Apparently the best time to have a cup is when cortisol has dropped. 10am – midday and 2-5pm. Naturally a coffee break.

  9. Hi Tarryn, I am a week strong now without any kind of caffeine. It’s still really hard to get by everyday but I’m doing this for my body. I am really loving this site since I have had PCOS for a very long time now & still haven’t found a way to get it under control. But I really hope this is one way to do so.

  10. I’ve given up both tea and coffee several times because they really disrupt my sleep and upset my bladder. I enjoy and miss both drinks but keep them for an occasional treat now

  11. Hello Tarryn,

    I love coffee, although I decided to stop my very morning coffe and instead drink a small cup once in a while, black ofcourse. Trying to drink more water and raspberry leaf tea, which is apparently very good for the reproductive system 🙂 Thank you for your information of caffeine and PCOS, I appreciate being informed and understanding more of the effects it has on me.

  12. Please don’t go cold turkey, bad bad idea and not great to encourage either in others. I went cold turkey originally the first time I quit this highly addictive substance i had such bad headaches I had to stay indoors for a full week. This time I did it gradually, first by reducing the amount of coffee, then eventually I switched to decaf and then came off the decaf.

      1. Kelly, I get a lot of spam on the site so I now moderate comments. We’ve been away with very little access to good internet. Just a delay in approving. I’m open to debate and differences of opinion…

  13. Hello

    I liked this article, though I was wondering have you done any research in regards to tea and pcos. Im a tee drinker, I have dabbled with coffee but felt as if it made my anxiety issues worse. Should I give up tea? I have read that tea and coffee generally equate to having equal parts caffine when consummed, though im not sure what are the benifits and down points of my tea habbit when it comes to my pcos.

  14. Thank you Tarryn for presenting both sides and giving honest research based information. Sometimes it’s really hard with PCOS to find reliable information and people tend to be a bit preachy about their views (paleo, raw food etc).

  15. Thanks for this info. I was diagnosed with PCOS last month but it actually took my ob/gyn some convincing as I did not have all the signs she may be used to seeing.

    I’m at a healthy weight and although there has been unusual hair growth on my face she said it was so light she couldn’t see it. I’ve also had terribly irregular periods and night sweats. But the real issue for me has been aggressive jawline acne.

    Coffee is a big trigger for the acne. I’m thinking it’s because coffee raises my cortisol levels which further aggravate the imbalance in my hormones. I don’t know for sure. But it is day and night the difference on my face when I drink coffee and when I don’t. That’s a HUGE bummer for me.

    It’s been a week now without coffee and my face looks clearer and the blemishes I do have on my face are going away and are no longer painful and itchy. Sorry coffee! It does sadden me but at least I know there is one food that is a no-no while trying to treat my PCOS. Hope this helps someone else out there.

    Thanks for this great resource for PCOS sufferers like me!

    1. I find this too! So hard as i love grabbing a coffee from macs if im in a rush but my skin flares up terribly if i drink too many.

    2. Maybe check whether it is the coffee or the cow milk? I did my own tests with black coffee. The moment someone puts cow milk in my coffee I get acne that day or next. I have almond milk now. But there are many other alternatives you can try.

  16. Hi Terryn,

    You do not know how helpful this site has been. I was diagnosed with PCOS about 6 months ago. I have always been an avid work out freak since I always tended to gain weight fast. I did not know why since all the females in my family were super slim except for me. The MD that diagnosed me never mentioned that we suffer from insulin tolerance and now it all clicked and makes sense. I have never been able to eat late and wake up feeling normal. It makes me sick! I really cant wake up and I then avoided eating anything after 5 or 6 pm. I am withing my normal weight 135 – 5’5′ height and I am changing all of the foods I eat. In order to maintain my weight I was even doing double work outs. Really this is the only way I myself can loose weight. I don’t want that anymore what I want is to have energy and be healthy. I was also diagnosed with fibroids in which I will have tx or even surgery in the next 3 weeks. I do not have kids and sadly I found out a bit late. It bothers me that it took so long to find out why I missed periods months at a time. Now I will try to eat as healthy as possible. Thank you for all your help and research! Its greatly appreciated.

  17. Caffeine is a stimulant that can help with your morning exercise. After sleep you body will be geared to burning fat since you’ll have lowered or used up the sugar in your blood and insulin is low. So the caffeine will give you focus and make the workout easier burning more fat cells. So one a day cant be all bad. Though eat a normal breakfast very soon after workout.

  18. After a ridiculous week-long road trip, drinking ridiculous amounts of coffee, I decided to give it a break. The first two days were painful – headaches and LOTS of sleep – but I think it was especially bad because I had been drinking SO MUCH coffee in the previous week and I was also recovering from the trip itself.

    I have since been off of caffeinated coffee for about 9 months and I plan on sticking with it! I feel I have more energy and wake up more easily. Diet changes may have also played a part in this, but I think feeling dependent on caffeine for energy is a very real problem. I do still consume caffeine in dark chocolate most days, but otherwise I only drink decaf coffee and herbal tea.

    The other day I decided to have a cup or two of caffeinated coffee because I knew I’d have a long day and I couldn’t believe the very noticeable effect it had on me. I did not feel “good” in any way. At one point while I was sitting at my desk, I was so dizzy that I felt like I was going to fall out of my chair! The next day I felt like I was going through a mini withdrawal all over again. That experience convinced me that I am better off without caffeinated coffee! And as for taste, I still love the way decaf tastes and compared to the caf cup I had the other day, I actually like it BETTER! I would recommend the challenge to everyone!!

  19. I was wondering if there is any information about the effects of caffeine from other sources (i.e. tea, dark/ pure cacoa, etc.)?

    1. I was just thinking about this as well! There is also a lot of research on green tea too. You might do a little googling and see what you find 😉 I prefer it myself as it tastes better to me than black coffee. a bit of citrus juiced into it Is good too until you get used to no sugar.

  20. Hi Tarryn,

    I am new to this site as I was just recently diagnosed with PCOS. Thank you so much for doing all this research for us ladies dealing with this. Idk if I am the only one who feels this way or if there is others out there, but when my OBGYN said the results of some blood work I had done is consistent with PCOS I didn’t want to believe it, I was in denial and thought there cant be something wrong with me and I ignored it. Well fast forward a year of trying to conceive and having really irregular periods I went and got a second opinion and was told for sure I do have PCOS. So since my doctor didn’t explain a whole lot of PCOS, she more or less prescribed me provara and clomid to try and conceive and that was basically it. She never explained how it affects blood sugars and I see a lot of girls with this usually are on Metformin….Diabetes runs in my family on both my mom and dads side, but the doctor never mentioned anything to me about blood sugars. So I guess my question to you is how does PCOS affect blood sugars? I am so lost on all this and how to handle it let alone understand what my body is doing to explain to my husband so he understands just as well. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!! Emily

    1. Tarryn offers a great course here called “From the Inside Out” highly suggest it. Very informative and better understanding than I got from 2 years of regular visited to a registered dietitian. I too had a similar diagnosis process and eventually developed type 2 diabetes. I have a family history of it extensively on both sides. I would encourage you to try and get a referral for a metabolic endocrinologist if possible. Your family history and PCOS might be enough to get you a consult at least. They can help you decide on a prevention and management plan. I would really encourage you to do this now. It’s much easier to prevent than treat diabetes.

  21. Hi Tarryn,

    As always, thank you for your thoughtful research on yet another hot topic for PCOS. Coincidentally, I decided to give up coffee for a bit as of this morning. Right now I am sipping on some herbal tea, in fact. I up for the 30 day challenge. I will miss the delicious aroma and taste of my morning coffee and almond milk creamer though 🙁

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