Does Coffee Make Period Cramps Worse?

Kayla Newnam
Does Coffee Make Period Cramps Worse?

 Are you enjoying your warm, frothy latte but asking yourself, does coffee make period cramps worse? Period cramps, mood swings, cravings, acne, and everything else that comes with a menstrual cycle are already quite unpleasant. Most of us don’t want to imagine a world where we’d need to give up coffee. Would it be worth it for one week if coffee makes your period cramps worse? 

Maybe you have found yourself wrapped in bed skipping school, work, dates, or time with friends due to period cramps. According to studies, 10 out of 100 women deal with severe period cramps that prevent them from doing daily activities. This can last between 1-3 days every single month, how exhausting! For some women, they notice worse period cramps when they are younger than 20 years old. While other see a decrease in pain after birthing a child. Regardless of age, the question remains: does coffee make period cramps worse? 

Why do we have cramps?

Painful periods are also called “dysmenorrhea”. When your menstrual cycle is ending, that's when your period begins which results in the shedding of your uterus lining. For this to happen you're  the muscles of your uterus begin to tighten and relax to shed that lining. These contractions are what we commonly  refer to as period cramps, but it may also be very mild for some. It’s important to note that if you have severe cramps and painful periods that worsen over time, you should make an appointment with your doctor. 

During your luteal phase, if you aren’t pregnant, your body's estrogen and progesterone levels drop and this is what causes the lining to be shed. When these levels drop, your body releases certain enzymes that trigger the release of prostaglandins. Have you heard of prostaglandins? These are the hormone-like substances that contribute to the pain that’s felt when our muscles are contracting to shed the lining of our uterus. Why are we explaining this process? There are certain things that we eat and drink that can affect our menstrual cycle and bring relief or intensify the period cramps. It’s important that you understand that painful periods do not have to be your norm, you don’t have to take part in being one of the many women that account for the 140 million estimated hours missed of school and work annually due to period cramps. 

So, What Does Coffee Have to Do With it?

Most of us will grab a cup of coffee in the morning, mid-day, as a treat, or a pick me up while finishing up a project. Coffee contains on average 95 mg of caffeine per 8 oz cup. Caffeine has many positive and negative effects on our bodies and impacts each of us. Of course, that is depending on our tolerance level and many other factors. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that you avoid caffeine during your period. 

Coffee causes Vasoconstriction 

One of the main contributors to period cramps is during the process of shedding the lining of your uterus, the contractions that take place can cause blood vessels to constrict and limit blood flow which leads to worse cramps. Coffee can make period cramps worse, it’s commonly known as a vasoconstrictor, meaning it has the ability to cause a narrowing of the blood vessels which can cause reduced blood flow in the uterus. What’s interesting is there’s research that shows heavier and prolonged menstrual flows with women that drink caffeinated coffee, the exact mechanism on why this occurs isn’t clear but it may be due to an effect on sex hormones. 

Coffee and your Digestion 

Are you familiar with period poops? You may have hear this term and it happens when your stomach feels like it’s cramping already due to the contraction of the uterus when shedding the lining.The prostaglandins we discussed earlier help relax the smooth muscle tissue of your uterus, but can also do the same for your bowels, cue the diarrhea. However, when we consume coffee, it can make period cramps worse, because there’s a heightened bowel response due to increased motility. When drinking coffee, it’s also important to take into consideration what is being added to the coffee. For example, there may be certain types of milk or sweeteners that your body responds to in ways that could cause excess cramping and bloating. 

Disruption of your Sleep 

If you aren’t convinced that you should limit your intake of coffee, we should talk about it can disrupt sleep. There’s nothing worse than having a migraine, feeling tired, and moody while lacking a restful night of sleep. Coffee has a half life of around three to five hours with the rest being in your system for longer. Depending on your tolerance and the time of day, coffee can absolutely disrupt your sleep due to the caffeine content. According to the Sleep Foundation, caffeine should be limited 6 hours before bedtime to prevent any difficulties falling asleep. 

What Can Help My Period Cramps 

You are probably wondering what you’ll drink instead of coffee. There are options you can reach for that have lower amounts of caffeine and can potentially help decrease your cramps. Plus, you can always reach out to your nutritionist here at Vessel to find more information on your cramps and how to improve them.

Sip on Herbal Tea

There’s many teas that can be helpful with period cramps, one of them is ginger tea. According to research using ginger powder in comparison to pain relievers, the ginger was able to relieve the cramp pains. How, remember the prostaglandins that can create more pain and worsen cramps? Ginger can decrease inflammation by inhibiting the prostaglandins. Another great option is peppermint tea! This is used for treating those with upset stomachs due to its ability to relax the smooth muscles. This can be great for your cramps and bring relief if you are dealing with nausea as well. Most researched herbal remedies are in capsule or powder form, so don’t hesitate to reach for that, we just want to provide you with options of beverages to choose from. 

Decrease your Stress levels

Instead of reaching for another cup, reach for a yoga mat for a quick meditation or relaxation session. A study of over 1,000 menstrual cycles showed that 21.9 percent of women with low stress had dysmenorrhea in comparison to double that of 43.9 percent of those with high stress levels. Although the link between stress and our menstrual cycle isn't completely understood, it is known that stress can cause our bodies to release and alter certain hormones that play a role in our cycle and the pain that accompanies it. 

Try Decaf Coffee 

We get it, after reading this you still don’t want to get rid of coffee. The best thing we can recommend is to at least minimize the amount of caffeine that you are consuming. As we discussed earlier, it’s really important for the first couple of days leading up to your cycle and the first day of the cycle due to the change in hormones and prostaglandins. We aren’t asking you to completely remove coffee from your diet, simply suggesting a few days a month of limiting it to improve the quality of your life. 

Hello Vitamin D 

Studies have shown that after 8 weeks of Vitamin D supplementation, women experienced a decrease in pain from their period. Why should you know this? Over one billion people worldwide are deficient in Vitamin D.Somewhere between 50-90 percent of the vitamin D that we absorb is through sunshine and the remainder should come from our diet. But what happens when you workout and work inside all day, are you getting enough exposure from the sun? We recommend starting out with 15 minutes outside in the sunshine to make sure you have enough Vitamin D. The sun is great, but it’s not probably not enough to ensure you have sufficient Vitamin D levels. You’ll want to test your Vitamin D levels regularly to find the appropriate supplementation and consume Vitamin D rich foods. Things like salmon, tuna, egg yolks, beef liver, and cheese would be great!

Will You Keep the Coffee?

Period cramps are the worst, but it doesn’t have to be like that all the time. There’s things you can do and choices you can make that can minimize the symptoms of your menstrual cycle. Next time you go to grab your second or third cup of coffee around the time of your period, remember this article. Always prioritize self care by opting for a meditation or yoga session to relax your body. Make sure you're going outside for 15-20 minutes daily and having your Vitamin D levels regularly tested for any deficiencies. Choose to enjoy a drink that will keep you warm and not contribute to making period cramps worse like coffee

If you continue experiencing cramps that are causing a disruption in your life, reach out to a physician to make sure you are not experiencing other health concerns.