Your period making you so fatigued that you see yourself reaching out for that cup o coffee more often? You might want to reconsider that! Drinking caffeine may actually exacerbate uncomfortable symptoms of a woman’s menstrual cycle, which we’ll be discussing below.
In general, Women are more sensitive to caffeine because the body’s detoxification process takes more time in women than in men. The time it takes for the body to expel caffeine increases even more in women who are taking oral contraceptives and those who are pregnant.
Here are some of the side-effects caffeine has on our menstrual cycle:
#1: Worsened Pre-Menstrual Symptoms (PMS)
Coffee, tea, chocolate and certain soft drinks and energy drinks contain caffeine, and this substance has long been presumed to worsen certain symptoms of menstruation. Specifically, caffeine has been thought to worsen premenstrual symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, bloating, backaches, headaches or irritability, according to a review in the March 2016 issue of “Today’s Dietitian.”
#2: Increased Menstrual Cramps and Breast Tenderness
Menstrual cramps is one of the most common symptoms a woman experiences before, during or after her menstrual cycle. Caffeine contributes to cramps because of its diuretic nature–it increases urine production and promotes dehydration. In addition, coffee contains oils that may inflame your intestines and cause cramping.
Fibrocystic breast syndrome (aka tender breasts) is a condition that many women suffer before or during a menstrual period. Non-cancerous lumps in the breasts that are filled with fluid can cause tenderness and swelling. Caffeine consumption has a considerable impact because during your menstrual cycle you already retain fluids and salt, so the fluid is more ample within the lumps of the breast during menses and can exacerbate breast tenderness.
#3: Heightened Tension and Anxiety
Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor – meaning it narrows blood vessels, making blood flow difficult In addition, caffeine also spikes level of cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine, which are stress hormones that are responsible for elevating blood pressure and heart rate. When there’s an increased level of these hormones in the body, the immune system is suppressed because of a reduction of the oxygen supply to the brain.
#4: Irregular or Shortened Menstrual Cycles
A study of over 400 healthy, premenopausal women found that women who consumed a lot of caffeine (over 300 mg daily) were twice as likely to have a short menstrual cycle (less than 25 days) compared to women who didn’t drink coffee.
Caffeine restricts blood vessels, reducing uterine blood flow. Consequently, this leads to a decrease in menstrual bleeding and a shortened cycle, resulting in the variability and irregularity of a woman’s period.
Find out more about your menstrual cycle here!
While caffeine may not affect menstrual cramps in some women as much, there are definitely people who are sensitive to the effects of caffeine and may need to avoid caffeinated beverages. In addition, excess caffeine can cause symptoms such as sleep disruptions, headaches, anxiety and palpitations — strong or rapid heartbeats.
Not giving up your coffee even if your uterus writes you a handwritten letter asking you to? We get it. Just be mindful of how your body is reacting and stay open to cutting back temporarily, even if just during the beginning of your period or when you’re most susceptible to PMS symptoms. Since caffeine clears the body in a matter of hours, you can still decrease symptoms by just cutting back for part of the month. And don’t forget that you may be ingesting hidden sources of caffeine you’re not totally aware of — aka that super-size bar of chocolate the night before your period starts.
If you need advice on ways to prevent or manage menstrual cramps, see your doctor. Menstrual cramps are sometimes a symptom of a more serious medical problem, so also see your doctor if the pain is severe or if the discomfort interferes with your ability to participate in your daily activities.