By Kelley Herring
Did you know that two out of every 10 couples have trouble getting pregnant?
The biological processes of fertility and pregnancy are (obviously) vital to our very existence. And until just a few decades ago, it occurred easily and naturally for most families. So, it’s important to ask… why are modern adults having a harder time getting pregnant?
The most common cause of female infertility is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The good news is that many women are overcoming this lifestyle condition – driven by insulin and elevated blood sugar – with a low-carb or ketogenic diet.iii
But there can be many other contributing factors to infertility…
And one of these is a “drug” that most of us consume nearly every day.
That “drug” is caffeine – the most widely-consumed psychoactive substance in the world.
It’s not news that the world is addicted to caffeinated beverages. Coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks help to wake us up and power through the day with more energy and focus. And while organic coffee and tea, in particular, have many health benefits…
Research also shows that these beverages may carry downsides that could rob men and women of the joys of parenthood…
Caffeine and Conception: When Just a Little Can Hurt
Pregnant women are typically advised that consuming a small amount of caffeine daily will not harm their baby.
In fact, most health agencies, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) set a “safe” level of caffeine to consume at around 200 mg – which translates to two cups of regular coffee per day.
But recent research indicates that even this small amount of caffeine can pose a threat to a healthy pregnancy and developing fetus…
“No Safe Level” for Mothers to Be
Researchers at Reykjavik University in Iceland evaluated almost 1,300 peer-reviewed articles linking caffeine and caffeinated beverages to pregnancy outcomes. They sought to discover whether the commonly-recommended “safe” levels of consumption for pregnant women are actually “safe”.
The researchers narrowed their focus to 48 original observational studies and meta-analyses, published in the past twenty years. Six negative pregnancy outcomes were evaluated including: miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight, preterm birth, childhood acute leukemia, and childhood overweight and obesity. They found that 32 of the 48 studies showed that caffeine significantly increased the risk of adverse outcomes.
The lead researcher, Professor Jack James concluded that there is substantial evidence maternal caffeine consumption is associated with negative pregnancy outcomes. Preterm birth was the only adverse outcome that was not correlated with caffeine consumption. He goes on to state that,
“The cumulative scientific evidence supports pregnant women and women contemplating pregnancy being advised to avoid caffeine.”
It’s important to note that this is an observational study. So, while it can’t establish causation, it can help us to see correlation. And there are other studies that DO provide biological plausibility for these findings…
Lifestyle Choices Impact Fertility
The Lancet was the first journal to report the caffeine-conception link in 1988. They found that women who drank about a cup of coffee per day were half as likely to conceive!iv The researchers stated:
“Women who consumed more than the equivalent of one cup of coffee per day were half as likely to become pregnant, per cycle, as women who drank less. A dose-response effect was present.”
Similarly, the American Journal of Epidemiology found that high levels of caffeine consumption may result in delayed conception.v
Another study published in the journal Clinical Epidemiology evaluated the potential dose-related effect of caffeine on time to conception for couples trying to conceive naturally as well as those undergoing fertility treatment. The researchers also looked at the risk for miscarriage.vi
The study found that:
Drinking 300 mg of caffeine increased the risk of early pregnancy loss/spontaneous abortion
Drinking 600 mg of caffeine more than doubled the risk of miscarriage
Of course, with all observational studies, we must also consider that other related lifestyle habits could be the cause. For example, it’s not clear whether it’s the caffeine that is impairing fertility or if there are other lifestyle choices that caffeine consumers might also take part in which could affect fertility.vii
For example, heavy coffee drinkers may also be smokers or drink alcohol – and we know that these factors can certainly impair fertility.
Sugar consumption is also often related to caffeine consumption. Adding sugar to your coffee or drinking a sugar-sweetened energy drink or soda increases blood sugar and insulin levels. And as we discussed earlier, we’ve long known that the leading cause of female infertility (PCOS) is related to insulin derangement.
Caffeine-Free Alternatives to Your Favorite Beverages
Eliminating caffeine can be a challenge, especially if you consume it regularly or heavily. To avoid potential withdrawal effects, begin by cutting down on your consumption and then taper it off.
If you want to enjoy the ritual of coffee – without the caffeine – try a coffee alternative made with roasted dandelion root and chicory root. You can brew it just like java, and it has a robust, slightly-bitter taste very similar to coffee.
And be sure to keep in mind the ingredients you add that can impact your blood sugar and your fertility. Use organic heavy cream and a couple drops of stevia extract to make a delicious coffee-free café au lait. Or blend your coffee alternative with grass-fed butter and a teaspoon of organic cocoa powder for a delicious caffe mocha.
If you – or someone you care about – is trying to become pregnant, it would be very wise to curtail the coffee and other caffeinated beverages well ahead of time. And be sure to consume a low-glycemic diet as well, to give yourself the best shot at the amazing joys of parenthood!
Read more Health & Wellness articles from Kelley Herring on our Discover Blog.
Kelley Herring is the author of the brand new book Keto Breads – which includes more information you need to know about why it is so important to avoid wheat and grains in your diet, plus how to use healthy replacements for these foods to create all the breads you love… without the gluten, carbs and health-harming effects. Click here to learn more about Keto Breads…
i 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth, CDC
iii Mavropoulos JC, Yancy WS, Hepburn J, Westman EC. The effects of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet on the polycystic ovary syndrome: a pilot study. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005;2:35. Published 2005 Dec 16. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-2-35
iv Wilcox A, Weinberg C, Baird D. Caffeinated beverages and decreased fertility. Lancet. 1988;2(8626-8627):1453-6. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(88)90933-6
v Stanton CK, Gray RH. Effects of caffeine consumption on delayed conception. Am J Epidemiol. 1995;142(12):1322-1329.
vi Lyngsø J1, Ramlau-Hansen CH1, Bay B2, Ingerslev HJ3, Hulman A1,4, Kesmodel US5. Association between coffee or caffeine consumption and fecundity and fertility: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. Clin Epidemiol. 2017 Dec 15;9:699-719. doi: 10.2147/CLEP.S146496. eCollection 2017.
vii Gormack AA, Peek JC, Derraik JG, Gluckman PD, Young NL, Cutfield WS. Many women undergoing fertility treatment make poor lifestyle choices that may affect treatment outcome. Hum Reprod. 2015;30(7):1617-24. doi:10.1093/humrep/dev094