Keep cool and kick the caffeine

Caffeine and the Perimenopause

Do you suspect you’re entering the peri-menopause? Whilst there’s plenty you can do to help ease yourself through this stage of life, in this article I focus on the impact of caffeine.  If you’re experiencing hot flushes, stubborn abdominal weight gain, anxiety, poor sleep and headaches read on to find out how caffeine can aggravate all those symptoms and discover some great alternatives.

“Is it hot in here or is it me?”

Oh how my friends and I used to laugh at our red-faced mothers frantically fanning their faces even on the coldest winter days. Hot flushes and night sweats are no laughing matter and can seriously impact on a woman’s daily life and sleep quality. Erratic oestrogen fluctuations during the peri-menopause cause our “body thermostat” to become faulty making us suddenly hot and flustered at the smallest change in temperature. Caffeine increases blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature which will all worsen hot flush symptoms.

Fat around the middle?

If you can’t understand why you’re not losing weight despite exercising and following a healthy diet then it might be time to cut out the caffeine.Coffee and other caffeine containing drinks like cola and black tea impact the blood sugar in the same way as stress. Caffeine is a stimulant which prompts the body to release cortisol and so pump glucose into the bloodstream – this in turn triggers the release of insulin which turns the glucose straight into fat and stores it around your middle. Drinking caffeine is one way of telling your body it is under attack and must store fat. To convince your body to let go of this fat, you need to eliminate caffeine from your diet.

The stress link

This is particularly relevant as women enter the peri-menopausal years and oestrogen levels start to drop. The skeleton depends upon oestrogen to keep our bones strong and healthy. Normally our adrenal glands are able to pick up the slack from our ovaries and provide us with enough oestrogen for our needs. However, if we’re constantly putting our body under stress by drinking caffeine, over-exercising or simply doing too much the adrenals are too busy producing cortisol to help out. Fat cells are packed with aromatase, the enzyme responsible for oestrogen manufacture. So if our body believes it is constantly under attack it will build an oestrogen production plant right around your middle.

Anxiety and poor sleep

Many women suffer with increased anxiety and poor sleep during the peri-menopause. Much of this can be attributed to life changes; children leaving home, ageing parents, career crossroads as well as hormonal fluctuations but caffeine won’t help due to it’s impact on cortisol levels.  If you’re feeling increasingly anxious and struggling to fall asleep and waking frequently cutting out caffeine is a good step to take.

Headaches

Headaches are another a common symptom of the peri-menopause.  If you’ve always been prone to pre-menstrual headaches the hormonal rollercoaster  towards menopause is likely to be a trigger for you.  Avoiding other common headache triggers like caffeine can be helpful.

“But I need coffee to keep me going”

If you think you can’t get through the day without a regular caffeine fix, you’re not alone. Many of my clients are extremely attached to their coffee and I completely empathise. I love a good coffee. But we shouldn’t rely on caffeine to give us energy. In fact when you eliminate caffeine completely you should notice that you energy levels increase. Caffeine is an energy robber. It will give you a quick boost which will then be followed by a energy slump so you reach for another fix or a sugary snack  to keep you going.

Time to take my own advice

I’ve been following my own personalised peri-menopause protocol for the past few months. This includes a combination of supplements, dietary and lifestyle changes. Most of my symptoms diminished but my hot flushes and night sweats increased dramatically – I was having up to 20 in a 24 hour period.  I knew the time had come- I needed to take my own advice and cut out coffee a week ago. My hot flushes haven’t disappeared but they have significantly reduced down to 3 or 4. I’m not a massive coffee drinker – only drinking 1 or 2 cappuccinos during the morning but it was clearly enough to have a big impact on my symptoms. I’m missing those coffees – the smell, taste and ritual of my daily fix.  No promises that I’ll never drink coffee again but now I know that it’s a factor in my symptoms I can make an informed decision.

What’s the alternative?

I’m a big fan of herbal teas and drink loads of them throughout the day but they are no substitute for the punchy bitter taste of coffee. I don’t drink my coffee black either so I miss the comforting creaminess of a milky froth.

Here are some alternatives that I enjoy:

Barley Cup

A blend of ground roasted chicory, rye and barley. This is a gluten free instant powder which has a similar taste and smell to coffee and is delicious with some frothy milk. I love it with almond or coconut milk.

Ground Chicory

Made from the ground roasted chicory roots .You can use this the same way as the Barley cup.

Dandelion coffee

Avoid  “instant” dandelion coffee granules which have added glucose syrup. Instead buy dandelion roots which you grind like coffee beans. Pop into a cafetière and add boiling water. If you prefer your coffee black this is probably the best option for you. Dandelion root has traditionally been used as a digestive aid as it helps to stimulate  bile and support fat digestion.

Turmeric “Latté” or Golden Milk

Traditionally drunk in India as a health tonic you can now find this trendy drink in many British high street coffee shops. Watch out as it can be heavily sweetened. It is easy to make at home and makes a relaxing, nourishing bedtime drink.

What’s the deal with decaffeinated coffee?

Decaffeinated coffee is another option. Many varieties use strong chemical solvents to remove the caffeine. Look out for brands that use natural processes like the Swiss Water method. Lavassa use a solvent-free process to decaffeinate their coffee and Waitrose have a couple of options in their range. Be aware that there will probably still be a little caffeine remaining perhaps around 5mg per cup compared to 120mg in a normal cup.

If you drink a lot of caffeine I recommend cutting down gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and make sure you drink plenty of water to flush out the toxins

Caffeine- it’s not all bad!

Coffee itself is not necessarily a bad thing and does have some health benefits. We’re all individual and genetics play a huge part in how we process caffeine. I’m sure we all know someone who can drink a double espresso before bed and sleep like a baby?! Tea also contains caffeine but generally in much smaller amounts than coffee so this might be a better option if you can tolerate a little caffeine.  Green tea also contains good amounts of  l-theanine, an amino acid which has calming properties. Other sources of caffeine such as cola or energy drinks have little to recommend them whatever your stage of life!

Looking for guidance to help you through the peri-menopause?

If you would like help with peri-menopausal symptoms please get in touch via email or phone. Every woman’s menopause will be different. There’s a lot of information out there and I can help you find the right solution for your individual needs. Sometimes a few simple changes can make a huge difference as well as the opportunity to talk to someone who understands what you are going through.

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About Michelle Lake

Hi, I run Mission Nutrition, and I'm a nutritional therapist/ nutritionist helping people all over St Albans & Hertfordshire feel happier & healthier. If your diet needs an overhaul, come and see me for a nutrition consultation! Tel: 01727 893 042 / 01727 869 929 or email michelle@mission-nutrition.co.uk