The Menopause Exchange Blog

COFFEE AND TEA AT THE MENOPAUSE

Recently, coffee has hit the headlines several times, with an apparent turnaround from coffee being ‘bad for us’ to coffee being ‘good for health’. Media reports suggest that tea is good for us as well. What is the truth about how much coffee or tea we should be drinking each day, and are there any effects of note for menopausal women?

This article was included in issue 83 (winter 2019/2020) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.

Coffee consumption
When we were growing up, our parents probably had a coffee percolator. Since then, how we make our coffee has changed, which explains in a large part the change in our views of coffee’s effects on health. Another change is that we’re no longer just looking at coffee as a source of caffeine, as coffee is also a source of potassium (which can help to lower blood pressure), antioxidants, plus fibre (yes really!) and phenolic compounds, both of which may influence the activity of the gut bacteria.

The regular consumption of coffee has now been associated with a number of health effects, with approved Europe wide health claims for the effects of coffee on improved alertness and attention (an effect of caffeine) and increased performance during short-term high intensity physical activity. Links have also been proposed between the regular consumption of a moderate amount of coffee (three to five cups each day) and a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, but as yet which part of the coffee bean is providing these effects hasn’t been clearly identified.

How much is it OK to drink?
The first thing to look at is caffeine – a review of caffeine in 2015 suggested that it’s safe to consume up to 400mg of caffeine each day, equivalent to around five cups of instant coffee. However, intakes of over 600mg of coffee each day are linked with insomnia, nervousness, irritability and increased blood pressure.

We now understand that our individual response to caffeine is affected by our genetic makeup. The ability of some people to drink double espressos at bedtime and fall instantly asleep, while others have only a few sips and get the jitters, may all be due to their genes. At a practical level, most people tend to only consume the amount of caffeine that they’re comfortable with.

The good news is that we don’t all have to drink posh fresh coffee and that instant coffee seems to be similar to fresh coffee in terms of health benefits but with a lower caffeine content. Decaffeinated coffee won’t boost our attention in the same way as caffeinated coffee, but research does suggest that potential benefits for other aspects of health are probably similar from decaff as the fully charged version, so drinking whatever suits you is fine.

How we drink our coffee matters
A typical coffee shop coffee is based on a double espresso with around 125mg of caffeine, whereas a cup of instant typically contain around 75mg caffeine. A really important factor, for most people, is how you take your coffee – milk (especially cappuccino and lattes), sugar, syrups, cream and sprinkles all add sugar, fat and calories in excess of what we need. Drinking a black coffee with a splash of milk several times each day will do no harm and may hold potential health benefits, but drink more than one latte, cappuccino or coffee shop special and you may find yourself gaining weight.

Effect on hot flushes
An important question for many women during the menopause is whether caffeine causes hot flushes? A survey of 2500 women in the USA concluded that those consuming more caffeine reported higher levels of hot flushes compared to those with lower intakes. What’s hard to know is whether it’s the caffeine per se, coffee itself or the effect of a hot drink causing a hot flush.

The effects of coffee will vary from woman to woman, and the only practical approach is to be mindful of yourself and your symptoms. Hot flushes don’t mean you have to give up coffee completely – if you want to drink coffee but know it will give you a hot flush just try to remember to take your jumper/cardigan off before you start drinking.

Common myth
Coffee causes dehydration – black coffee is over 95% water. Caffeine does has a mild diuretic effect, but the amount of water in a cup of coffee is far greater than any lost, helping with overall hydration.

What about tea?
Although coffee drinking is on the rise, tea remains the most commonly consumed hot drink in the UK. A typical cup of black (or breakfast) or green tea contains around 50mg caffeine. The array of herbal and fruit teas available all tend to contain less.

The volume of tea consumed means that this is a major source of antioxidants for many people, and it has been suggested that these antioxidants could be helping to protect against heart disease and diabetes. But more research is needed before clear health links can be made. Drinking tea does clearly help people to hydrate, socialise and relax.

Fast facts

  • Black tea and coffee contain virtually no calories.
  • Both tea and coffee are associated with a range of possible health benefits.
  • Caffeine helps to boost alertness and performance – coffee has the edge here with a higher caffeine content.
  • Adding a splash of semi-skimmed milk adds around 13 calories but also adds calcium.
  • A medium skinny cappuccino or latte made with skimmed milk contains around 90 to 100 calories.
  • A full-fat medium cappuccino or latte contains between 170 to 210 calories.

Conclusion
Drinking tea or coffee in moderation will help to keep you hydrated and could be protecting your health. Either is fine, but watch how you take them and avoid adding unnecessary calories to two essentially healthy drinks.

References:
EFSA (2015) Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Caffeine, EFSA Journal, 13(5):4102

Menopause. 2015 Feb;22(2):155-8. doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000301.
Caffeine and menopausal symptoms: what is the association?
Faubion SS1Sood RThielen JMShuster LT

About the author
Angie Jefferson (www.angiejefferson.co.uk) is a registered dietitian with a special interest in women’s health. She believes in helping women make small positive diet and lifestyle changes to deliver bigger health benefits.

Created Winter 2019/2020 

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