To Coffee or not when trying for a baby?

Caffeine consumption is a much debated subject when it comes to conception and fertility issues.  Coffee can be described as a double edged sword.  Coffee beans come from a plant so they are essentially a healthy food choice.  They are packed full of health promoting plant chemicals.  When the beans are picked, they are roasted and this process increases their health promoting anti-oxidant levels.

The other side of the coffee sword is caffeine's ability to induce the production of the stress hormone adrenaline.  Adrenaline is produced by the adrenal glands.  It is hormonally released and caffeine is known to trigger its production.  Excess circulating adrenaline produces the 'fight - flight' syndrome and is a precursor to stress.  When couples are trying for a baby it is wise to avoid stressors whether environmental or physiological.

Caffeine is found in regular coffee, black tea, green tea, colas and chocolate.  One eight ounce cup of coffee contains between 150 to 200mg of caffeine (approximately)  The caffeine content of coffee depends on the type of bean used, how it has been roasted and how it is brewed.  Tea also contains caffeine.  A cup of black tea contains (approx) 20mg -40mg of caffeine depending on the tea and the size of the cup.  Green tea also contains caffeine albeit to a lesser extent.  Tea also contains tannin as well as caffeine and tannin blocks the absorption of iron in the gut.  So if you are prone to iron deficiency, reduce your tea consumption.  

Chocolate contains caffeine.  Dark chocolate confers more health benefits than milk chocolate as it contains less sugar and more plant chemicals called flavonoids.  However, it also contains a higher percentage of cocoa solids making the caffeine component even stronger.  The benefits of eating dark chocolate far outweigh the caffeine content and it is safe to eat during the conception period and pregnancy.  The taste is quite strong so only a couple of squares are required to provide satiety. 

It is extremely difficult to isolate a particular food or drink that singularly may adversely affect the human body.  Most studies are observational rather than a direct intervention trial. Researchers have found that caffeine can have an adverse affect on female fertility and may increase the risk of a miscarriage.  While the exact mechanism by which caffeine affects fertility is unknown, the answer may be related to the ability of caffeine to influence the quality of the developing oocyte (egg). A study published last year demonstrated an increase in the risk of miscarriage with increasing caffeine intake. Women consuming greater than 200 mg of caffeine per day appear to have an increased incidence of miscarriage rate (25.5%) as compared to nonusers (12.5%) Also, it has been shown that pregnant women don't metabolise caffeine as quickly out of their system.  A further issue during pregnancy is the ability of caffeine to cross the placenta and may affect the developing baby.

Men may also be adversely affected as there are some studies that indicate there may be problems with sperm health which tend to be exacerbated with excess caffeine intake. 

The jury is still out as to the exact effect caffeine has on both female and male fertility outcomes.  It is probably wise to eliminate it if you are experiencing fertility issues and eliminate coffee during pregnancy.  Tea should be safe to drink as its caffeine content is relatively low.  There are many nice herbal teas on the market now to choose from.

Gaye Godkin, Health Nutritionist, , MPH Nutrition (Hons) DipNT cNLP