Why Drinking Coffee Can Worsen Your PCOS Symptoms

Reported to affect as many as 6 million women across the country, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the top cause of infertility, reports the Endocrine Society. However, many women are unaware that they have the condition.

PCOS occurs when the ovaries produce higher than average amounts of male sex hormones known as androgens (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). This can happen in cases where the body is unable to produce levels of hormones required for ovulation. This may lead to the formation of cysts, which then produce androgens. However, not all cases of PCOS involve cysts.

Those with PCOS may experience symptoms such as irregular periods, variations in menstrual flow, weight gain, excess body hair, hair thinning, skin tags located on the neck or armpits, ovaries that are larger in size, and more. While genetics, obesity, and insulin resistance are thought to potentially play a role, ultimately, what causes PCOS is largely unknown.

Coffee may worsen hormone imbalances

Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise may help with management of PCOS symptoms by allowing individuals to maintain a healthy weight, lower blood sugar levels, and potentially boost ovulation (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). To do so, patients are advised to stay away from certain food items that may aggravate symptoms, such as fried foods, refined carbohydrates, sugary beverages, and processed foods including meats (per North Atlanta Women's Care).

While many people would argue that they can't truly start their day until they've had their morning cup of coffee, individuals diagnosed with PCOS may find that coffee is doing them a disservice by potentially making their symptoms worse. Experts at Fertility Family note that excess caffeine can further throw off pre-existing hormone imbalances by boosting one's blood sugar and cortisol production. This may lead to elevated insulin levels and potentially prompt inflammation and decreases in progesterone production.

Potential benefits of drinking coffee for those with PCOS

Caffeine may also give rise to sugar cravings, which can further increase blood sugar levels if consumed. And while coffee may spark increases in some areas of the body, it can prompt decreases in others. For example, because coffee is a diuretic, it can cause us to lose important water-soluble B vitamins through increased urine output that would otherwise be helpful in maintaining a healthy weight (via Fertility Family).

Although coffee may pose some potential downsides when it comes to PCOS symptom management, some experts suggest that it may not be all bad after all. Rather, caffeine has been linked with increased production of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), a hormone that people with PCOS are often low on. Low levels of SHBG have been found to potentially play a role in insulin resistance, metabolic dysregulation, and high levels of testosterone in the body. Boosting this hormone may therefore have benefits to offer those with PCOS.

Should you find that coffee may be exacerbating your PCOS symptoms, consider dialing back your caffeine intake or stopping coffee consumption completely. Alternatively, perhaps give decaf coffee or black coffee a try. Without the added milk and sugar, you'll be protecting against blood sugar increases.