Could your much-loved lattes be contributing to those troublesome symptoms? We investigate…
It’s not unusual for women to find that certain foods and drinks aggravate common menopausal symptoms. You may have already noticed that obvious culprits – such as spicy dishes and alcohol – cause hot flushes and you’ve probably learned to steer clear of these, or to be ready with a cooling spritz if you indulge. But your regular cuppa may have slipped beneath your radar as a trigger. Yes, it may be bad news if you’re hooked on regular Americanos, or even mugs of tea. Research has suggested caffeine might exacerbate issues relating to the dilation of your blood vessels, medically known as vasomotor symptoms – and known to you as hot flushes and night sweats. It may worsen other menopausal symptoms too.
Research into the links between caffeine and menopausal issues has produced mixed results. But one large study drew a clear link between consumption of caffeinated drinks and significant vasomotor symptoms in women at and after menopause. It makes sense – caffeine’s known to dilate blood vessels, and if you’re having trouble with body temperature control, anything that causes vasodilation is likely to further aggravate it.
Anxiety and insomnia
Everyone has different levels of sensitivity to caffeine but it’s known to make anxiety worse in some people. It’s also renowned for messing with sleep, particularly if you have it in the afternoon or evening. This isn’t exclusive to menopausal women – but if you’re already struggling with anxiety and insomnia, too much caffeine may well make the issues worse.
Some women start experiencing unsettling heart palpitations at menopause, which can be directly linked to hormones, or related to anxiety and poor sleep. Either way, caffeine can also contribute to that fluttering feeling. You should always get this symptom checked out by a doctor because it can indicate a heart rhythm disorder that needs treatment. Our online menopause community member Blanka C explains her palpitations have been eased by cutting out caffeine: ‘Apparently they're linked to my anxiety, not hormones. I reduced my caffeine intake and learnt a lot about breathing exercises and these helped,’ she says.
What should I do?
If vasomotor symptoms and the other issues above are affecting you, reducing caffeine – or cutting it out completely – could be a good idea. That said, research into the menopause connection is still preliminary and in fact it also suggests some benefits to caffeine at this stage. Some perimenopausal women were shown to have fewer problems with mood, memory and concentration if they consumed caffeine regularly. However, given that it can disrupt sleep and trigger hot flushes, it’s wise to have it in moderation.
Tips for cutting down
- Be aware of caffeine sources. It’s not just coffee and black tea you need to watch – green tea, cola and some other fizzy drinks, chocolate and cocoa all contain it.
- Reduce gradually. Abruptly quitting can leave you with withdrawal symptoms including headaches. You may find you don’t need to avoid caffeine completely – cutting down could be enough to ease symptoms, so keep a diary and see what works for you.
- If cold caffeinated drinks are your thing, try switching to caffeine-free versions, or a simple alternative such as sparkling water with a twist of lime or ginger.
- Hooked on tea? Try swapping at least some of your cuppas for herbal options.
- If you love the flavour of coffee, an obvious answer is to swap to decaffeinated. Otherwise, rich-flavoured herbal teas such as liquorice and peppermint can satisfy your tastebuds.