Effects of Caffeine on Menopause

April 18, 2011

Ah, It Tastes So Good: Effects of Caffeine

You see her on the screen, eyes closed and hands cupping a steaming cup of coffee. She gently sips and slowly smiles. Ah, that first sip of the first cup in the morning. There's nothing quite like it - morning has come and there's no better way to start if off than with a cup of something hot and caffeinated. Those first moments are treasures spent quietly sipping a hot drink. It's all so calm and comforting, but let's face it, the real reason most of us love to drink caffeine is because it helps us feel more alert (and we like the taste, too).

All Things in Moderation: Limit Caffeine

Over the years studies have been done investigating the effects of caffeine on the body and the results have been mixed. Some studies show caffeine can support wellness and can even have some protective benefits while others condemn the drink entirely. What's the truth in it all? Well, first of all, we have to go back to the adage, "all things in moderation", and work from there - including research data along the way.

"Caffeine is not so bad when you have one - or even two - cups of coffee or tea a day. But if you need lots of caffeine just to function, or you're having fatigue or insomnia, palpitations, or adrenal issues, you probably need to reassess your habit, and take a good look at your overall health picture," according to Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP.

It's a Real Pick-Me-Up: What Caffeine Really Does

On the positive side, caffeine really does help you feel more awake, initially. Studies that have been done of the brain show that caffeine reduces sleepiness and improves alertness, ignites a sleep-deprived mind and heightens the ability to pay attention. If you're tired, a cup of coffee can perk you up and if make you feel more attentive. That's a real bonus when you need to be awake and alert. Caffeine does improve productivity and task performance and has also been shown to improve response time and accuracy, especially if you do not use caffeine regularly.

I Feel Good With Caffeine

Regular coffee drinkers probably end up needing their cuppa joe in the morning and throughout the day because of its ability to stimulate positive feelings and perk up the mood. Most people don't associate their good mood with their caffeine, but researchers believe the mood-enhancing effect of caffeine reinforces its consistent use and may be a good explanation for why people are hooked on it. Recall studies show varied results, but overall it appears that predictable, moderate caffeine consumption may actually improve both long-term and short-term memory.

Can't Function Without Coffee

On the flip side of the coin there are the negative effects of caffeine - which vary from person to person. Excessive use, as with anything, may lead to some serious problems - especially as women age. The quick pick-up provided by caffeine can become a deep fatigue later on in the day or even the next morning, which then requires another cup of caffeine to start the engine again. This can seriously affect sleep patterns and disrupt the normal circadian rhythm. Additionally, in the brain, caffeine blocks the parts of the brain that receive adenosine, a naturally secreted biochemical compound that acts as a sedative. So, by drinking caffeine and getting the jolt that flips the switch to "on", the brain that wants to sleep, can't because of the caffeine.

Menopause Symptoms Kicked Up a Notch

The adrenal glands are forced to pump out more stress hormones (norepinephine, adrenaline, and cortisol) and they become overworked as they try to keep up with the high-powered stimulation. Cortisol levels are thrown off and a combination of fatigue and insomnia result. The habit ends up in a dilemma - the more you drink the less energy you have. The more drained you are, the touchier you become and the stress response kicks into high gear exaggerating events, raising the blood pressure and levels of anxiety. Then, when trying to kick the caffeine habit, withdrawal symptoms occur. All of these symptoms become exacerbated during menopause.

Good or Bad - You Choose

Caffeine has been linked to heart attack in people with a certain gene, yet, a slight variant of that same gene allows for protection from heart attack. Caffeine has been shown to be effective in not only reducing but also slowing the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease. In Parkinson's disease studies show that drinking three cups of caffeinated tea per day can help prevent loss of dopamine and protect a person from Parkinson's by delaying the onset for as much as eight years. On the other hand, if tea is replace by coffee, the onset can occur five years earlier!

The bottom line is that you must draw your own conclusions about caffeine by evaluating your health history and the relative risks.

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