Ah, caffeine. The highly controversial stimulant of the trying to conceive crowd. Conventional advice says that if a woman consumes 200mg or less that her fertility won’t be affected. But if that applies to all women, including those without fertility issues, do women struggling to get pregnant need to take more drastic measures?
How Caffeine Works
According to researchers at Johns Hopkins, more than 90% of Americans consume more than 300mg of caffeine daily. Caffeine, a naturally occurring chemical stimulant, is technically considered a drug. It works to produce “energy” in the body by altering the chemistry of the brain to block the chemical that demands sleep or makes you feel tired. With caffeine actively working on receptors in the brain, the pituitary gland takes note of the all the activity and thinks a major event is happening and starts producing epinephrine (also known as adrenaline).
It is adrenaline, not caffeine itself, that causes the stimulated effects of caffeine, such as dilated pupils and a faster heartbeat. The adrenaline also causes
• reduced blood flow to the stomach, which slows down digestion
• increased blood pressure
• sugar released into the bloodstream from liver stores for added energy
• tense muscles that are ready for action
How Caffeine Takes Away From Fertility
Research from the University of Nevada showed that caffeine affects reproductive ability by hindering cells in the fallopian tubes that prod the eggs along their journey to the uterus, where they can be fertilized. Caffeine may stimulate the body and keep you feeling awake, but it has the opposite effect on your eggs, causing them to be “lazy.” If ovulation occurs, but the egg can’t travel to the uterus, even if all other conditions were right, no pregnancy will occur.
While there is still much controversy over how much caffeine is safe for a woman trying to get pregnant, more conservative recommendations show that 50mg or less isn’t significant enough to cause issue. Of course, 50 mg is only about 1 oz of espresso, or about one-third of a cup of home-brewed coffee. Still, when you consider the benefits of the temporary energy-high versus the downside of the longer-lasting impaired egg transport, perhaps caffeine isn’t a risk worth taking when you’re desperately hoping to get pregnant.
Other Reasons to Avoid Caffeine
It isn’t just about the restricted ability of the egg to make it to the uterus. Caffeine can also negatively impact other factors of reproductive health, like estrogen levels, stress levels, and sleep quality.
Caffeine can lead to higher levels of estrogen in the blood, which can in turn cause a disrupted balance between estrogen and progesterone, both of which are necessary to achieve and sustain pregnancy. It’s far more common for women to experience inadequate levels of progesterone, which can lead to inability for an egg to fertilize, implantation failure, or early miscarriage. Caffeine can also make endometriosis worse, a condition, which can contribute to infertility.
As mentioned above, caffeine activates the brain and the pituitary gland to produce a stress response in the body. It might not seem like much in the wake of needing that extra energy kick, but again, the long-term consequences of constantly having the body in a state of stress or “fight or flight” from the adrenaline response is one that actively works against fertility. For proper hormone balance and the ability to conceive, the body needs to be in a state of calm. When stress is present from adrenaline, reproductive hormones are produced in lower amounts to compensate for the higher levels of stress hormones.
Sleep quality is important for all humans, regardless of their reproductive goals. Caffeine stays in the body for many hours after the energy effects have worn off, and if consumed too late in the day, can disrupt the brain’s ability to fall into restorative sleep. Even if caffeine doesn’t directly cause insomnia, it can contribute to restless sleep, or frequent waking during the night.
Life Without Caffeine?
Cutting caffeine from the diet seems impossible for many, but there are ways to find energy that don’t involve using stimulants. After the initial caffeine withdrawal wears off (usually 3-5 days), a woman can encourage natural energy by eating a breakfast high in protein (at least 20 grams), having protein with every meal, limiting sugar intake, and getting regular exercise. Of course, sleep also plays a major role in one’s energy level.
The positive aspects of eliminating or strictly reducing caffeine intake for fertility are clearly shown, but it is often one of the last ditch efforts for the woman trying to conceive. To reap the most benefits from going caffeine-free, eliminate it for a minimum of three months before trying to get pregnant.
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