As women, our menstrual cycles are like our monthly report cards. Our bodies are constantly adapting to the environment around us, what we are eating, drink, doing or not doing! The PMS we experience is directly related to our habits from the month previous.
Last month, my period was NOT good. Not good for me meant I was more crampy, more crabby, and had heavier flow. Whenever this happens, I always take a second to think back to the previous month and ask myself: “what did I do well? did I have a change in habits? what was I eating consistently? how were my workouts?” There is usually always an answer in one of those questions. It can even be a good idea to ask your partner too, because they can often help you identify what changed.
And last month? It was coffee. Coffee is not a normal routine for me, but with shelter-in-place happening in San Diego, I was at my boyfriend’s place more often, and he likes to make coffee several mornings a week. Once I realized this, BINGO, I had the source of the problem.
Coffee itself is not inherently bad, but I’ve seen many women in my practice experience substantial lifts in PMS with the removal of coffee from their diet.
Let’s talk about coffee for a second.
Coffee contains caffeine. Caffeine is a molecule known as a methylxanthine, which in the plant world is a type of alkaloid molecule, and is the most common central nervous stimulant in the world. Chocolate and tea have methylxanthines too, known as theobromine and theophylline, respectively, but the caffeine content in tea and chocolate is much lower than coffee. All the methylxanithines have different chemical structures:
1,3,7-trimethylxanthine = caffeine
3,7-dimethylxanthine = theobromine
1,3-dimethylxanthine = theophylline
When caffeine is detoxified by the liver, it uses the CYP system of enzymes in phase 1 liver detox, which also detoxify estrogen (CYP1A2). Caffeine also gets metabolized by a few other pathways including: N-acetyltransferase 2 (NAT2), xanthine oxidase (XO) and CYP2A6
In my case, my coffee consumption increased, which impaired my detox of estrogen, which made my PMS symptoms worse.
Caffeine also has an effect on our stress regulating mechanisms – it increases cortisol and epinephrine at rest, which, if you are trying to rest/heal some dysfunctional adrenal glands (commonly referred to “adrenal fatigue”), is actually counter-productive. Many of the women I work with who have period problems have an underlying stress component that hasn’t been addressed, which is actually the cause of their irregular, painful, or heavy menses. It’s not always an issue with just estrogen, or just progesterone itself.
For my patients who are trying to heal their nervous system, bring back balance to the parasymptathic/sympathetic ratio, and switch from being in a state of constant “go to go” aka “fight or flight mode,” I do not recommend they consume caffeine in any way, even small amounts.
Lastly, the preparation of coffee tends to go hand in hand with exposure of hot liquid to plastics, which causes leaching of the plastic compounds into the liquid, which we then ingest and get into our bodies.
For example, when you go to Starbucks, or whatever coffee joint you fancy, you are given a cardboard cup that is lined in plastic, with a plastic cover on top. The hot steam condensates on the plastic cover top, and falls into your drink. The hot liquid also affects the plastic lining of the cup, and plastic covering whenever you take a sip. So what we are left with, is essentially a hot beverage with a side of plastic.
Many of the ways we prepare coffee at home also use plastics. Plastic coffee filters. Plastic components of frech presses. Aeropresses are plastic. Plastic coffee makers. It’s best to go PLASTIC-FREE when making your coffee. (1)
Plastics are well known “endocrine disruptors,” because they are what’s called “xenoestrogens,” or fake estrogens that stimulate your estrogen receptors and make your body more estrogenic, or increase the body’s “total estrogen pool.” Too much estrogen is bad for you, and causes period problems like heavy flow, moodiness, breast tenderness and swelling, bloating, irritability, and crying.
Your total estrogen pool is made up of things such as:
- ovarian production of estrogens
- adrenal production of estrogens
- conversion of testosterone to estrogen
- estrogen bound to SHBG*
- estrogen not-bound to SHBG
- estrogen metabolites – detoxed and going out in the urine
- re-absorbed estrogen from a poorly functioning GI tract
- exogenous “unintentional” estrogens – city water containing birth control remnants and other hormones; exposure to family member’s estrogen cream; effects on prescription drugs on estrogen levels; xenoestrogens
SHBG stands for “sex hormone binding globulin.” It’s a carrier protein in your bloodstream that carries around hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.
If we didn’t have SHBG, our circulating hormones would be “free” all the time to bind to receptors, and we would feel constantly overwhelmed with their effects. SHBG creates a hormonal goldilocks effect – so we have just enough hormones unbound creating an effect on tissues, and we have just enough hormones waiting and bound, not creating an effect on tissues.
Recently there have been an increase in products that are BPA-free. Bisphenol-A is one compounding in plastic that is an endocrine disruptor. So BPA-free is good right? WRONG. If you take something OUT, you have to replace it with something. The compounds BPP and BPS are the common replacements for BPA in plastics, and they are actually more hormonally disruptive than BPA itself!
I hope after reading this, you can understand a little bit more how plastics and coffee can have an effect on your menstrual cycle and your PMS.
For many women, lowering their estrogen pool and/or improving their estrogen detox, is paramount for alleviating their PMS symptoms.
I encourage you to re-think your use of plastics in your life. I would also encourage you to think critically about whether your coffee consumption is truly beneficial for you or not. Coffee is one of those sneaky hormone disruptors, that if you remove it, could really make a difference in improving your hormone health, as well the symptoms surrounding your monthly cycle.
For further reading:
(1) Here is the link to the french-press we own that is 100% plastic-free and works amazingly well.
Lane J.D. Caffeine, glucose metabolism, and type 2 diabetes. J. Caffeine Res. 2011;1(1):23–28.