I was always a six-cup-a-day drinker. Coming from a family steeped in coffee, I was a sipper from the time I was in middle school.
Alas, this is my only vice. I didn’t drink alcohol until I was 24, tried one cigarette when I was 10 and have strayed away from drugs. For a straight-laced person like me with a heavy workflow and an incessant need to meet deadlines, coffee was a perfectly acceptable and harmless vice.
Only recently (the last three years) have I been noticing an increasing rate of hormonal changes. Characteristics like an absent period, vaginal dryness and terrible cystic acne have been an eclipse over my health. And then over the summer, when my doctor informed me about abnormal cells on my cervix and the several procedures I would have following the initial results, I decided to make impactful health changes.
In October, I began to eat an influx of greens and fruits. I cut out meat from my diet and monitored my sugar intake. While I’ve never considered myself unhealthy, I do have a sweet tooth and have always thought of myself as a carnivore. After a few months of my new diet, I began to lean toward healthier cravings. And after some time, I decided (after promising and swearing that I would never do it) coffee would be the next victim in my stream of eliminations.
Coffee, not necessarily the caffeine but the acid, can damage our neuroendocrine immune system over time. The neuroendocrine immune system “consists of the processes and structures that form our central nervous systems, our hormonal systems, and our immune systems, all of which are linked in complex relationships.”
Moreover, Katherine Maslen, a naturopath, nutritionist and author, spoke to me and explained that caffeine has a stimulant effect, which in turn can up-regulate adrenal function and the stress response.
She continues, “This can lead to an increase in anxiety and irritability as well as a reduced stress response over time. Studies have shown that excessive coffee intake may shorten your menstrual cycle, making it [fewer] days between periods. Some research shows that caffeine can exacerbate PMS symptoms and it may also affect menstrual flow due to the effect it has on your blood vessels, leading to constriction.” High doses of acidic caffeine, like the kind found in coffee, can create an influx of stress hormones, which can result in acne or inflamed skin.
In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a study was published that says coffee can alter women’s estrogen levels, which can contribute to hormone-related diseases. Moreover, caffeine can contribute to hormonal changes for up to 24 hours, meaning that if you’re sensitive to caffeine and drinking it constantly, your body never gets a rest. Coffee also contributes to the depletion in nutrients for happy and healthy hormones, like the B vitamin (which I used to take a supplement of for better skin).
As for my period, women who consume large amounts of coffee can have increased side effects of PMS or a shortened period cycle. According to an article published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, caffeine “restricts blood vessels, reducing uterine blood flow.” As a result, that can decrease bleeding and shorten your cycle.
My first week of no coffee was pure hell. My caffeine withdrawals included flu-like symptoms, migraines and body aches. It’s no easy task to surrender your most precious morning routine while also buckling under the physical pain of withdrawal. After around five to seven days, my symptoms subsided and I began my heavy regimen of tea.
I mostly stick to green tea, but dabble in black tea when I need the extra energy. I discovered my skin immediately became less inflamed, although my acne persisted. Moreover, my skin was healing faster, and my small laugh lines were evening out. I felt hydrated. A little tired, but hydrated.
Maslen, who founded Brisbane Natural Health, explained that drinking tea, and in particular green tea, can help to enhance your health. This is largely due to a phytochemical group called catechins, which are powerful antioxidant agents tea contains, she added.
“Studies have found that drinking four or more cups of green tea a day can regulate blood-sugar levels, help with weight loss and enhance memory,” Maslen says. “Green tea also contains L-theanine — which is helpful to calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety.”
While tea does have caffeine in it, it’s only one-third the amount coffee has. Maslen explains green tea is a much healthier alternative to black tea because it is higher in antioxidants and less acidic. She suggests drinking up to four cups a day, but not in the evening, as it contains the same amount of caffeine as black tea.
An excerpt from Maslen’s book Get Well, Stay Well reads, “Coffee can be a friend or foe when it comes to your health. A moderate intake of coffee, say one to two cups per day (that’s standard cups, not mugs or double shots) can be great for your health. Go above this, though, and we’re talking about some serious health problems.”
Avoiding coffee also contributed to my health-conscious decisions in other areas of my life. If I was going to cut out or at least significantly lower my intake of coffee, sugar, dairy and meat, why not completely cleanse myself of all unnecessary toxins? This isn’t to say all coffee drinkers are unhealthy or damaging their body. Everyone’s sensitivity to coffee varies, and unfortunately, mine is highly prone to sensitivity.
So, in short, green tea has been my choice for bettering myself for a cleaner and more balanced future. My cold winter days in Chicago can’t be missing something warm — tea is now my weapon of choice. Since switching from coffee to tea, my breakouts have been calmer and less inflamed, and I even had my period for the first time in two years last month (something that had me leaping around the house with joy).