New research published recently in an on-line journal links miscarriages with caffeine consumption. When either the woman or the man in a couple has more than two caffeinated drinks a day in the weeks leading up to conception, the risk of the woman having a miscarriage rises, according to the report published in Fertility and Sterility. And if, during the first seven weeks after conception, the woman consumes more than two caffeinated beverages per day, she also risks having a miscarriage.
“This is an observational study, so we can’t prove cause and effect, but we are confident of these findings,” Katherine Sapra told The Chicago Tribune. Sapra is a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the study’s lead researcher.
For Amethyst Holmes, 25, a staff member for Athletes in Action the level of her caffeine consumption could put her in the at-risk category. She drinks caffeinated tea about twice a week; coffee occasionally and eats her chocolate several times per week.
“I’m a big chocolate person,” she says with a laugh. “I wouldn’t say daily.”
Of course, caffeine isn’t just found in coffee, tea, sodas and other beverages. It’s an active ingredient in chocolate, which can be found in cakes, cookies, ice cream and other products. So based on this study, couples who are trying to have a baby may need to evaluate their entire diet to ensure that their caffeine consumption doesn’t put them at risk.
Sapra said her research didn’t prove that caffeine causes miscarriages or explain why there is any link at all. It did establish, though, that the health of a woman’s husband or male partner is just as pivotal to the outcome of the pregnancy, particularly as it relates to caffeine consumption.
Drinking coffee is what exposes many Americans to caffeine. Some 64 percent of adults in the U.S. drink at least one cup of coffee per day. More than 10 percent drink four cups per day.
Women drink more coffee than men, according to polling done by Gallup. Whites drink more than people in other racial groups. Adults between 35 and 54 out-pace others in coffee consumption. And most coffee drinkers make at least $30,000 per year.
The debate about the impact of caffeine predates the study by decades at least. According to some reports, caffeine can improve concentration and memory, and lower a person’s risk of contracting Parkinson’s disease or having a stroke. But caffeine also has been known to cause insomnia, nervousness, nausea and increased heart rate and respiration. It has also been found to worsen diabetes and high blood pressure.
And some experts, such as addiction specialist and best-selling author Dr. Harold Urschel, say that caffeine is a drug that can be extremely addictive.
“It is a psychoacive substance,” Urschel told Psychology Today. “It stimulates certain chemical systems in the brain and this keeps you awake.”
Daily users develop a tolerance for caffeine, Urschel explained.
“After a while, you need more and more to produce the same effects,” he said. “Unfortunately, along with waking you up, caffeine also makes you agitated, irritated, and anxious – and those effects increase along with your daily dosage of caffeine.”
While the experts debate, Americans continue to consume copious cups of coffee – leading the world by drinking an estimated 400 million cups of coffee per day or 146 billion per year. The numbers themselves almost suggest that caffeine indeed is addictive.
What coffee-loving couples trying to conceive need to know is that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“Behaviors before pregnancy can impact pregnancy,” Janis Biermann told the Tribune. Biermann is the senior vice president for education and health promotion at the March of Dimes, an organization dedicated to reducing infant mortality and birth defects.
“When you are planning a pregnancy, it’s a good time to get your body ready,” Biermann said. “Reduce your consumption of caffeine, get to a healthy weight, don’t drink alcohol and see your doctor for a checkup.”
The researchers who published the study in Fertility and Sterility also discovered that women who take a multivitamin daily prior to conception and during the early stages of pregnancy can reduce the chance of having a miscarriage.
Good information, said Holmes, but she doesn’t need it now. “It doesn’t really concern me. I’m not really looking to build a family right now. At this point in life, I’m just trying not to get heartburn.”