Caffeine and Endometriosis: Quitting Coffee
The Endometriosis Diet - Why I Struggle with Quitting Coffee
I sit here typing with an empty coffee cup next to me. I have just finished a coffee binge. My boyfriend makes the most awesome iced coffee, which is highly concentrated and I had three glasses of the stuff this morning. I am addicted and I have just fallen off the wagon.
Quitting coffee has been and still is, the hardest part of the endometriosis diet for me. It's not just that I love the taste of the dark stuff, I love the smell, I love holding a coffee cup (really), I love sitting in coffee shops, I love the way it makes me feel (only the good feelings!). I'm fascinated by the coffee making process and the industry in general and it's something my boyfriend and I both have a shared interest (okay, addiction) in. We love going for a weekend coffee and brunch together, we geek out over the latest coffee equipment and whenever we go somewhere new, we google the best coffee shops in town and visit them all. We've even contemplated our own coffee business (of course, we'd end up coffee train wrecks, so will never do that!). So giving up coffee for me isn't just about giving up a drink, it's giving up an interest and some small but very real pleasures in life.
Caffeine and Endometriosis
Despite all of the above, there are some very compelling reasons for me to continue my pursuit of quitting coffee, all of which I know and have researched before. I'm hoping writing this will help not only other endosisters on their journey, but motivate me on my own path to health.
- Caffeine has been shown to aggravate and increase inflammation. My body proves this over and over again. If I don't realise I'm about to come on my period (I often lose track of days) and have a coffee and then start, the pain is excruciating. If I've had coffee in the days leading up to my period, the pain is still excruciating. If I've cut out the coffee by a couple of days, it's much more manageable and if I haven't had any all week, I can actually start my period and not realise until I go to the toilet.
- It appears I'm not the only one who has this experience; women with endometriosis who were asked to remove caffeine from their diet had a significant reduction in symptoms and pain in a 1998 study.
- Another study, conducted in 1993, revealed that women were twice as likely to develop endometriosis if they drank two or more cups of coffee a day.
- Many women with endometriosis have higher levels of oestrogen and there are indications that oestrogen and imbalanced hormones encourages the growth of the disease. Studies show that women who drink coffee have up to 70% higher oestrogen levels than women who do not and the American Journal of Epidemiology found that caffeine may increase the production of oestrogen in a 1996 study.
- The higher oestrogen levels may be to do with the fact that the liver has to work hard to remove caffeine from our systems and excess/old oestrogen is also processed and removed from our bodies through the liver. Therefore our livers may be overburdened by the amount of caffeine we are pumping in, affecting their ability to remove and balance hormones.
- Henrietta Norton calls caffeine an anti-nutrient, which means it takes energy and nutrients from the body to process it, giving little or nothing in return. Caffeine is a diuretic, causing us to excrete minerals and nutrients that haven't been processed and used by the body yet. It also strains the adrenal system, which we need to manage stress, energy and sleep patterns.
- Coffee can increase anxiety. Whilst some people can drink coffee and feel great, in me and in many endo sisters or those with mental health issues, it can exasperate our feelings of anxiety or stress. Both these can affect the body's ability to heal and trigger flare ups.
- Coffee is admittedly great for perking us up, but it also causes caffeine crashes when we come down from our high. For me, this just makes my battle with fatigue harder and I'd rather stabilise my energy levels to find a constant than be going through extreme highs and lows of energy.
- Caffeine can affect the digestive system, causing cramping, pain and diarrhea. Many women already have digestion problems with endometriosis, so reducing coffee can help reduce aggravation to the intestines and bowel.
The Endometriosis Diet and Quitting Coffee
Quitting coffee is one of the main suggestions of the endometriosis diet and from my experience of giving up coffee in the past, I know how much it helps. I will continue to work on reducing and eliminating my caffeine intake, but at the same time, I won't always deny myself that little pleasure. I just need to make it infrequent and treasured when I do and learn to love other alternatives just as much. I also want to emphasise that I am not demonising coffee. In case you're confused due to the ever increasing information out there, it has been shown to have beneficial health benefits, just unfortunately not on endometriosis!
My suggestion is to start slowly, as caffeine withdrawal is very real and has some difficult side effects, such as migraines and low energy, which we don't really need more of with endometriosis. Below are some very short and quick tips to get started:
- Start slowly, reducing your coffee consumption one cup at a time and perhaps replacing it with decaf (I like to go with swiss water processed, as the chemicals used in the standard process can be harmful and add more toxins to our already stressed body). You could try this for a couple of days or a week, work out what's comfortable to you and then make more adjustments.
- Replace your morning coffee with green tea or matcha green tea. Matcha tea delivers caffeine but not the same highs and lows that coffee comes with, so you can stabilise your energy levels before trying to adjust to little or no caffeine.
- Find some new favourite hang outs. Lots of places now offer turmeric, matcha, chai or beetroot lattes and super food hot chocolates. Whilst some of these do contain caffeine, they're lower in caffeine levels and come with much higher nutritional benefits. The autumn is a great time to head out with friends and test out new flavours. I know how hard it is to meet for a 'coffee' and be drinking a watery badly made herbal tea, so get out there and explore!
- Head to your local health shop and test out some new and comforting herbal teas or hot drink mixes. I really want to try this Organic Cocoa Complex by Neal's Yard!
I could go on forever, but that's probably enough on coffee for now... I'll do another post soon on my favourite coffee replacements - I'd love to hear from you and what you alternatives you've tried and like!