Why is Caffeine Bad for Fertility?

Part 1 in a 3 Part Series on the Impact of Caffeine on Reproductive Health

By Paul J.O'Brien
B.A., N.C.E.H.S., Dip. Acu., Cert Clin. Med. M.T.C.M.C.I., M.C.Th.A.

Why is Caffeine Bad for Fertility? Caffeine is perhaps one of the most socially accepted drugs in our society. And yes, I said a drug. I say this as caffeine is both mildly addictive and changes your body's internal chemistry. And this can have a significant impact on your reproductive health and should you fall pregnant and cause a number of significant complications. 

In this article I'll share with you the facts from several western medical studies and of course examine it from the Traditional Chinese Medical point of view. I'll then give you my recommendations and tell you, truthfully, why is caffeine bad for Fertility? 

Caffeine, the hidden drug

Obviously there is caffeine in coffee, however it is found in many other foods and beverages such as like tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, and coffee or chocolate ice cream, chewing gum. As such we actually take in far more caffeine then we think we may, as it's in more substances then your coffee. Additionally it is a common ingredient in many over the counter medications. Caffeine is a stimulant; it increases heart rate, blood pressure and thus increases energy, hence why many people become dependant on it to get themselves started in the morning. 

And therein lies another aspect of its drug like nature, in conjunction with its addiction comes dependency. It becomes necessary to daily function. And like any drug, quitting it will lead to withdrawal and some pretty uncomfortable symptoms such as: headaches, irritability, restlessness and nausea.

But why would you want to quit coffee and caffeine anyway? Why is Caffeine Bad for Fertility? Or is it? 

Should You Quit Your Coffee? The Studies on Caffeine and it's affect on Fertility...

Multiple studies have shown that a single, regular cup of coffee drastically delays conception. In fact, one US study showed that a single coffee, taken once a day decreases your chance of conception in 12 months by over 55%. That's one cup of coffee - and you have automatically lowered your chance of conceiving this year by over half. 

How can single coffee have that much impact? 

The leading author on the study of caffeine and infertility is Dr. Daniel W. Cramer from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts (U.S.). One of his studies, published in Fertility and Sterility - October 2001, volume 76, issue 4, pages 723-729, showed that close to 500 women aged between 36-45 years and who were not pregnant, on hormone treatment or breast feeding and consumed at least 500mg of caffeine (that's about 3 small regular coffee's) had nearly 70% more estrogen in the early follicular phase. This was in comparison to women who were taking less than 100mg of caffeine. 

Elevated estorgen can cause many reproductive health issues and feed endometriosis

Another study in those undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) illustrated that women who taking in even small amounts of caffeine (50 mg - that's a mug of tea) were likely to have decreased live birth rates

The western medical model isn't exactly sure how caffeine impacts reproductive health but they theorize that is influences egg quality and egg maturation which in turn prevents fertilization. It may also restrict blood flow to the uterus which can negatively impact implantation and prevent a pregnancy taking hold. 

Finally there's increasing amounts of research that shows excess caffeine can impact the body's ability to absorb iron due a compound called phenol. Now this is already an issue for women, who lose iron regularly through menstruation and generally consume little red meat, leaving the body in an iron depleted state. However caffeine further acerbates this problem and lower iron levels is a known casual factor in multiple fertility disorders particularly those that disrupt ovulation

And the negative impact of caffeine continues into pregnancy...a subject I'll examine closely in part 2.

However, before we get to that I want to touch on the effects of caffeine and male fertility. 

Semen quality is diminished in male coffee drinkers as is sperm motility (the swimming ability of the sperm). This, while not a definitive cause of infertility certainly won't help matters. In fact, a Mayo Clinic study demonstrated that drinking just three cups of coffee a day leads to genetic mutations in sperm that can make it harder for them to successfully penetrate an egg. Further it also increases the risk of miscarriage and birth defects if pregnancy is successful.

Why is Caffeine Bad for Fertility? 

Why is Caffeine Bad for Fertility? Essentially in varying quantities, caffeine can lead to;

  • A 70% increase in estrogen, linked to endometriosis and other reproductive health issues, including infertility. 
  • A reduction in uterine blood flow, thinner lining, reduced risk of implantation
  • Poor egg quality
  • Poor egg maturation
  • Compromised iron absorption leading to reproductive and ovulation disorders including secondary infertility
  • Reduction in sperm motility

I'll continue this series in Part 2; The effects of caffeine during pregnancy and in Part 3 I'll give you my recommendations from a TCM and Western point of view along sharing with you a couple of easy to implement ideas on reducing your caffeine intake. 

For now, if you have any questions on concerns about conceiving pregnancy or quitting caffeine please feel free to contact me.

Sources: 

  • Dr. Cramer, Daniel W. "Fertility and Sterility" - October 2001, volume 76, issue 4, pages 723-729
  • Klonoff-Cohen, H., Bleha,J. et al. (2002). “A prospective study of the effects of female and male caffeine consumption on the reproductive endpoints of IVF and gamete intra-Fallopian transfer.” Human Reproduction 17(7): 1746-1754.
  • Lucero, J., Harlow, B. L. et al. (2001). “Early follicular phase hormone levels in relation to patterns of alcohol, tobacco, and coffee use.” Fertility and Sterility 76(4): 723-729.
  • Wilcox, A., Weinberg, C. et al. (1988). “Caffeinated beverages and decreased fertility.” Lancet 2(8626-8627): 1453-1456.
  • Hatch, E. E. and Bracken M. B. (1993). “Association of delayed conception with caffeine consumption.” American Journal of Epidemiology 138(12): 1082-1092.
  • Stanton, C. K. and Gray, R. H. (1995). “Effects of caffeine consumption on delayed conception.” American Journal of Epidemiology 142(12): 1322-1329.
  • Bolumar, F., Olsen, J. et al. (1997). “Caffeine intake and delayed conception: a European multicenter study on infertility and subfecundity.” European Study Group on Infertility Subfecundity. American Journal of Epidemiology 145(4): 324-334.

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You've been reading Why is Caffeine Bad for Fertility? Read about the TCM understanding of coffee in my published article on the 'benefits' of coffee here

Click here to learn more about Acupuncture and the Treatment of Infertility

Click Here to Learn how Acupuncture can help prevent miscarriage

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