I have been a coffee drinker since I was a little girl.
My grandfather got me started early — probably when I was about three years old — by fixing me a milky, sugary cup of coffee in one of my grandmother’s little white coffee cups.
It was one of the most delicious things I had ever tasted.
Now, obviously, I didn’t become a habitual (daily, addicted) coffee drinker until I was an adult. In fact, I’m pretty sure I got hooked while working as the marketing assistant at a local beach cottage rental company. The coffee pot was always on in the breakroom, and going to fix a cup gave any of us an easy excuse to take a break in the middle of the work day.
Pretty soon, I began to learn about the killer caffeine headaches that would surely come if I didn’t get that cup o’joe around the same time each day. Once I made that mistake, I learned to avoid it in the future. Of course I didn’t avoid it by avoiding caffeine, I just learned to avoid it by making sure I had that coffee, or if I was in a pinch and no coffee was around, I discovered that Pepsi and Mountain Dew were great caffeine-heavy substitutes. They didn’t pack the same caffeinated punch as coffee, but it would at least get the drug into my body enough to take the edge off of the headache.
Coffee is not the devil, but…
As awful as caffeine sounds, coffee is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I have written on this very site about the health benefits of coffee, and the best ways to ensure that your morning habit is a healthy one.
But there are limits to how much you can drink, and how you drink it, that can tip the scale from healthy to dangerous.
Studies have shown that coffee consumption in excess of 28 cups per week increases mortality rates across the spectrum of potential causes for both men and women. If you do enjoy coffee, you should keep your consumption to no more than two to three 8 ounce cups per day. Be mindful of the fact that the big ol’ mug you keep on your desk might very well hold 16, 20, or even more ounces, so you might be getting your daily quota with that one cup.
Coffee’s affect on breast health
In my 20s, I was told by my OB/GYN that the problem of occasionally lumpy and painful breasts that I would experience as my hormones fluctuated throughout the month was exacerbated by caffeine consumption. She recommended cutting back on, or cutting out, the caffeine if I wanted to experience relief.
I’ve always kept that in mind, and have tried to be diligent about performing breast self-exams every month, in addition to stepping away from the caffeine when I have those sorts of breast discomforts.
Now that I’m closer to 40, and my grandmother has recently undergone a mastectomy to remove estrogen-induced breast cancer from her body, I’m even more sensitive to any changes in my breasts. If they are reacting to too much caffeine, it makes it more difficult to monitor them through self-exams.
Listening to your body
It seems like about once a year, my body starts reacting negatively to caffeine. It typically happens just as summer arrives, and manifests in one of two ways. Either I start having digestive distress (surely due to the acidity of coffee), or my breasts become unusually tender and dense, and sometimes I’ll experience both problems at the same time. Not fun.
This year has been no exception. The tummy troubles and breast discomfort arrived with the summer, almost as if they were arriving on schedule. As soon as I realized what was happening, I started stepping down from the coffee, and started upping my consumption of probiotic-rich yogurt. (Lately, I’ve been crazy about Fage Plain 2% yogurt with a spoonful of honey.)
The discomforts have dissipated with the reduced caffeine consumption.
I won’t lie. I often ask myself if the time will come when I’ll eventually just need to give up coffee altogether, rather than just taking breaks for a month or two once a year.
If you have battled with lumpy or tender breasts, that beloved coffee that fuels your day just might be the culprit.
I recommend speaking with your health care provider about it if you haven’t already, and try to step down from the coffee. After a few weeks, you may notice a big difference.
Also, remember that caffeine finds its way into our bodies through many foods and beverages. Anything with chocolate is going to have caffeine. The darker the chocolate, the more caffeine. Teas — green, black, white — they all have caffeine, albeit in much lower amounts than brewed coffee. And let’s not forget sodas, but you should ditch those for thousands of reasons, just one of which being the caffeine problem.
To read more about the effects of caffeine on your body, or where its found and in what amounts, this is a great article with a helpful infographic.
A couple of tips
If you decide to take a caffeine break, be smart about it. Don’t try to go cold turkey. The withdrawal symptoms can be beastly. There’s really no need to stop so abruptly unless your doctor has recommended it.
Love the ritual of a morning cup of coffee? I understand. What has helped me is as I wean myself from the brew, I enjoy one or two cups of strong English tea. Less caffeine than coffee, but still dark, rich and satisfying. You can add milk if you like, but I prefer just a couple of drops of stevia or a spoonful of sugar.
Eventually, try to step down to a green tea. These are two of my favorites. (Jasmine Blossom and Green Tea with Coconut, Ginger and Vanilla) Green tea has less caffeine than coffee, and the phytonutrients make it a beverage you should incorporate into your daily routine anyway.
Has caffeine caused you any deleterious effects? How do you manage it? I’d love to read your comments below.