Say It Isn’t So! Does Caffeine Worsen Hot Flashes?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t function without my morning coffee. Until I’ve had my first sip or two of that steaming hot brew, don’t even bother trying to talk to me. And when you’re dealing with menopausal fatigue, headaches, insomnia, and night sweats? I couldn’t even imagine trying to cut caffeine out of that equation. But with the results of recent studies on caffeine and menopause symptoms, I may have to consider making some changes.

It’s not just me – coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world! A 2005 US report noted the average caffeine intake by adults aged 35-64 is 250 mg/day, the equivalent of 3 cups of brewed coffee per day. Strangely enough, past research on caffeine intake and vasomotor menopause symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats, which are two of the most common and troublesome menopause symptoms women experience) has showed contradictory results: One recent study showed increased hot flashes with caffeine intake, while the other showed the opposite! In reporting on studies, researchers have also talked about the difficulty in assessing the issue since caffeine is found in so many difference drinks and even foods that it is hard for people to realize how much they are actually consuming.

The largest study to date analyzed survey data from 1800 women who presented with menopausal concerns at the Mayo Clinic’s Women’s Health Clinic between July 25, and July 25, 2011 and compared the menopausal symptom ratings of caffeine users and non-users. The result? Researchers found an association between caffeine intake and more bothersome hot flashes and night sweats in postmenopausal women.

(Quick – PUT DOWN THAT MUG!)

On the other hand, the same data also revealed an association between caffeine and improved mood, memory, and concentration in perimenopausal women. But this same positive association was not seen in post-menopausal patients.

(Wait, what? Okay, you can have another sip.)

Stephanie Faubion, M.D., director of the Women’s Health Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Rochester admits the study’s findings are preliminary and further research is needed. The study only considered patient’s self-reports of whether or not they consumed caffeine and did not ask how much – with caffeine present in so many different foods and drinks it possible women were consuming it without even realizing it (Green tea, anyone? Chocolate? Diet soda?).

As well, other research has found many health benefits to consuming caffeine in moderation, including improved long-term memory, protection against liver disease and type II diabetes, improved heart performance, increased energy, and lower risks of skin cancer and depression.

(Hmm…Maybe it is time for a refill!)

Dr. Faubion suggests that women should add this information to their toolbox for dealing with menopause symptoms, saying, “Our study suggests that limiting caffeine intake may be useful for those menopausal women who have bothersome hot flashes and night sweats. Menopause symptoms can be challenging but there are many management strategies to try.”

It looks like the jury is still out on caffeine and menopause, but it’s always good to have more ideas when hot flashes and night sweats affect an estimated 79 percent of perimenopausal women and 65 percent of postmenopausal women.

Keeping a journal of your symptoms and what strategies you’ve tried, what has worked and what hasn’t could help you identify your own triggers and what works best for you, including limiting caffeine intake or trying different types of caffeine. (And find more advice for your hot flashes and night sweats here.)

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