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I’m a Registered Dietitian dedicated to helping you eliminate your PCOS symptoms with sustainable and realistic nutrition changes.

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Is Coffee Bad For PCOS? What The Science Says

Is coffee bad for PCOS? If you’re here, you probably love a good cup of coffee in the morning so this is a valid question considering the impact it may have on PCOS. 

As a registered dietitian who also has PCOS, I’m always staying current on the latest research to help you simplify managing your PCOS symptoms. 

This blog post will dive into the pros and cons of coffee and whether or not you should include this beverage in your daily routine. 

overhead view of a cup of coffee with a design in the foam on top.

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How Coffee Affects PCOS

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that affects approximately 6-12% of women of reproductive age in the United States. The symptoms of PCOS vary among individuals but may include irregular periods, weight gain, cravings, hair loss, acne, fertility problems, and fatigue (1). 

While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, this condition is linked to insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, and hormone imbalances such as high testosterone levels. Those with PCOS are also at an increased risk of developing certain health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. 

Now, back to coffee. Research has shown us that a healthy diet and lifestyle changes can significantly benefit our PCOS. So is that morning cup of coffee a problem? Or beneficial?

There are definitely several pros of drinking caffeinated coffee, but there do seem to be some downsides as well. Since coffee can be either caffeinated or decaffeinated, we’ll need to talk about research done on both regular and decaf coffee. Since there’s other ways to get caffeine, such as energy drinks or caffeine supplements, I’m also going to talk about some of the research done on caffeine consumption and how that relates to PCOS. 

Here are some pros and cons of coffee for PCOS at a glance.

Benefits of coffee for PCOS:

  • Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Higher sex hormone binding globulin levels
  • Lower testosterone levels
  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • May lower ovarian follicles 
  • May lower cortisol levels or have no effect on them

Downsides of coffee for PCOS:

  • May increase cortisol levels
  • Lower chance of conceiving with high caffeine intake
  • Increased risk of miscarriage with high caffeine consumption
  • Can disrupt sleep
infographic on the benefits of coffee for pcos.

Let’s dive into each of these points in a bit more detail.

Coffee, Caffeine, and Insulin Sensitivity

Research on coffee and PCOS exclusively is extremely limited. Therefore, to make informed decisions, we have to look at small snippets of other research and apply it to what we know about PCOS. 

Something we do know is that up to 80% of those with PCOS have insulin resistance. If left unmanaged, insulin resistance can eventually develop into type 2 diabetes. We also know that about half of those with PCOS will develop type 2 diabetes prior to the age of 40 years old. So this is certainly a big area of concern for those of us with PCOS.  

Scientific research has consistently linked coffee to a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes (2). However, the ways that coffee does this isn’t well understood and research results are mixed. 

Several research studies have found that coffee consumption doesn’t impact insulin levels or insulin sensitivity. A recent systematic review found that caffeinated coffee may have a negative short-term effect on blood glucose levels – essentially 1 to 3 hours after coffee consumption, you may have higher blood sugar levels. However, this same review found that caffeinated coffee has a favorable effect on glucose levels over a long term period of 2 to 16 weeks. 

The bottom line is that if you currently enjoy coffee on a regular basis, it may prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes. It may have a negative effect on blood sugar levels in the short term, but positive effects over a long term period with regular consumption. But it’s important to note that if you don’t already drink coffee, you probably don’t need to start for the potential benefits it may have for glucose metabolism and diabetes risk. 

Coffee, Caffeine and Cortisol Levels

Cortisol, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands, can impact hormonal balance. Normal cortisol levels are typically higher in the morning and fall as the day goes on, which allows us to maintain a normal circadian rhythm. Chronically high cortisol is more of an issue that can worsen insulin resistance and lead to weight gain and anxiety. 

Some studies found that caffeine consumption can increase cortisol levels, which can potentially affect individuals with PCOS. One study checked if those who consume caffeine often can get used to it. They discovered that people who regularly have caffeine don’t see as much of a jump in cortisol levels compared to those who hadn’t had any caffeine for the previous 5 days. It’s important to note that most of these studies used caffeine capsules, rather than caffeinated beverages like coffee (3, 4). 

On the other hand, some research shows that consuming caffeinated coffee did not impact salivary cortisol levels (5, 6). Another recent study looked at the effects of Arabica black coffee in healthy women. It found that after drinking one cup of this coffee, serum cortisol and glucose levels were actually lower. 

The bottom line is that caffeine (such as caffeine capsules) can increase cortisol levels, while caffeinated coffee doesn’t seem to have the same impact on cortisol levels. It’s not clear why this is but it may be in part due to other beneficial compounds in coffee. Since the effects of caffeine on cortisol levels seem to be clear, it may be wise to avoid other sources of caffeine outside of coffee, such as energy drinks.  

Coffee, Caffeine, Testosterone, and SHBG Levels

Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) levels are often low in women with PCOS. SHBG binds to free testosterone levels, so low levels of SHBG usually results in high testosterone levels in PCOS. High testosterone can cause a lot of the unpleasant outward PCOS symptoms such as hair loss, hirsutism (excess facial and body hair growth), and acne. Low SHBG levels are also associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. 

Research studies have found that a high coffee consumption and caffeine consumption is linked higher SHBG levels (7, 8).

Another study found that decaffeinated coffee lowered total testosterone and free testosterone levels in women, while caffeinated coffee decreased total testosterone levels. It also found that decaf coffee increased SHBG levels, which likely caused the decrease in testosterone levels (9).

infographic on the cons of coffee for pcos.

Coffee, Caffeine, and Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is one of the key components in the development of PCOS. It can worsen insulin resistance, increase androgen levels, and lead to weight gain

Coffee is a beverage that contains caffeine, but also contains other components that have anti-inflammatory properties such as chlorogenic acid, polyphenols, and hydrocinnamic acids that can reduce oxidative stress. 

Research shows that coffee has anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce inflammation (10, 11, 12).

Click here for a full Anti-Inflammatory Food List PDF that can help reduce inflammation.

Coffee, Caffeine, and Fertility

PCOS is the number one cause of anovulatory infertility. While this sounds daunting, our diet can play a positive role in our ability to conceive though. 

If you’re trying to improve your fertility, check out this blog post: PCOS Diet Plan To Get Pregnant (PDF Included)

Research has linked high caffeine levels (over 500 mg of caffeine per day, which is the equivalent of roughly 4 to 5 cups of coffee) to a decreased chance of conceiving in the general population. In those with PCOS and without PCOS, there was an increased risk of spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage, with over 500 mg of caffeine daily (13, 14). 

If you’re trying to get pregnant, or are thinking about it in the near future, limiting caffeine intake may be a wise decision. 

Coffee, Caffeine, and PCOS

As you may have noticed, there hasn’t been a ton of research done in PCOS specifically. I’m going to highlight the other research that’s related to coffee and caffeine here though. 

A recent clinical trial found that 400 mg of green coffee extract supplementation significantly reduced free testosterone levels, triglycerides, and total cholesterol levels in PCOS (15, 16). Note that this study is promising but it used green coffee extract, not the hot morning coffee you’re used to. Green coffee is unroasted coffee beans that’s higher in chlorogenic acid, which is believed to be the reason behind the health benefits. It does also contain caffeine but in lower doses than traditional coffee.

While the name PCOS indicates ovarian cysts, the cysts seen in PCOS are actually follicles, or small fluid-filled sacs that contain an immature egg. A recent animal study found that giving caffeine in PCOS rats decreased the number of ovarian follicles and reduced inflammation (17). While we’d need to see if these results could be recreated in human trials, it shows promise since inflammation is a key factor in the development of PCOS. 

Additionally, and interestingly, one study found that coffee consumption was actually associated with a lower risk of PCOS. 

Should You Drink Coffee? 

Individual responses to coffee can vary, and can be influenced by genetics, overall health, and other lifestyle factors. It’s important for those with PCOS to pay attention to how their bodies respond to coffee and adjust their consumption accordingly.

Too much caffeine, especially in the afternoon hours, can also impact your sleep which can alter your hormone levels. This could be a simple fix where you don’t drink any coffee after a ceratin time of day to ensure you get a good night’s sleep. 

If you find that too much coffee or caffeine makes you jittery or more anxious, it may be a good idea to reduce or eliminate it. 

Additionally, how coffee is consumed is another important topic. Coffee can often be a vehicle for a lot of added sugar and calories (hello Starbucks drinks!), which may ultimately make your PCOS symptoms worse. If you’re someone who adds a lot of sweetened creamer or sugar to your coffee to make it taste better to you, it may be worth trying to scale back. If you’re someone who uses just a little bit of creamer or sugar, it’s likely fine to continue without worry.

three women laughing while holding to-go cups of coffee.

FAQs

What’s the best coffee creamer for PCOS?

This will vary depending on who you ask and who it’s for! There are several different coffee creamers that are good options for PCOS, whether it be dairy-based or a non-dairy creamer. Personally, I tend to prefer non-dairy creamers in my coffee even though I’m not dairy-free. Here’s a couple of my favorite coffee creamers for PCOS: Nut Pods and Chobani Oat Creamer

Read more about the best milk for PCOS here.

Are energy drinks bad for PCOS?

Energy drinks usually have caffeine, certain vitamins like B vitamins, and sugar or sweeteners. Caffeine, when it’s not in coffee, can increase one of our stress hormones: cortisol. This may be problematic for people with PCOS who already struggle with hormonal imbalances since cortisol can lead to high levels of insulin. 

Is black coffee bad for PCOS? 

No, black coffee is not bad for people with PCOS. When consumed in moderation, black coffee may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and testosterone levels. 

Is decaf coffee bad for PCOS?

No, decaf coffee is not bad for PCOS. Most research studies have been conducted using caffeinated coffee, but decaf coffee has other components that also improve health and may reduce inflammation, tesotsterone levels, and risk of type 2 diabetes. It may be a better choice if you’re trying to conceive since high levels of caffeine can reduce fertility in those with PCOS.

Is is ok to drink coffee with PCOS?

While there isn’t a lot of information done on coffee in those with PCOS specifically, it does appear that coffee may have more benefits than negative effects. When consumed in moderation, coffee may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, inflammation, ovarian follicles, and testosterone levels. 

Does quitting coffee help PCOS?

There doesn’t appear to be conclusive evidence that avoiding coffee will improve PCOS symptoms.

The Bottom Line: Is Coffee Bad For PCOS?

PCOS is complex and the relationship between coffee and the condition is multifaceted. For the habitual coffee drinkers, the research appears to favor the inclusion of coffee if you’re already a coffee drinker. It may reduce cholesterol levels, triglycerides, inflammation, testosterone levels, ovarian follicles, and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

The effects of coffee on cortisol levels (aka our stress hormone) is discussed frequently in the PCOS community. Many research studies show the negative effects of caffeine on cortisol levels, but these studies typically use a concentrated source of caffeine such as caffeine capsules. Many studies that use coffee have found that serum cortisol levels are either unaffected or slightly lower after coffee consumption. 

As with many aspects of health, moderation and individualized approaches are key. Of course, individual variation plays a crucial role, and consulting with your healthcare provider is essential for personalized advice.

Disclaimer: this is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace or substitute for professional medical advice for PCOS or any other health condition. Always consult with your healthcare provider for individualized recommendations.

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