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Effects of Caffeine on Children

Caffeine is a stimulant that affects adults and children in a similar way; however the amounts required for its effects are comparatively lower in children than in adults. Caffeine occurs naturally in coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa and cola nuts. It stimulates the central nervous system and people become more alert and energetic with caffeine consumption, thus it is classified as a drug.

Coffee is not the sole source of caffeine. There are many other foods and beverages that provide substantial amounts of caffeine and parents sometime unknowingly (or even knowingly) can serve these beverages to their juniors.

Soda, carbonated beverages, cold drinks, caffeinated soft drinks, chocolates, coffee ice creams, tea, iced tea, hot cocoa and many cold medicines supply caffeine.

Effects of caffeine on children

Even a small amount of caffeine can affect children in many ways and can cause headaches, stomach upsets, concentration and sleeping problems, nervousness and jitteriness, increased blood pressure and increased heart rate. Besides these effects there are many other reasons that confirm that caffeine should be avoided in children.

  1. A child’s risk for obesity is increased by 60% just by consuming 350 ml sweetened soft drink per day.
  2. The vitamins and minerals that are required for a child’s health are often replaced by sweetened caffeinated drink that provides empty calories (no other nutrients). This can increase the risk of many nutritional deficiencies in a child. For example, milk when replaced with soda, a child may miss the calcium that is needed for strong teeth and bones.
  3. The high sugar content in the sweetened caffeinated drinks can lead to dental cavities and erode the enamel of the teeth from acidity.
  4. A glass of water is recommended with every ounce of caffeine consumed, as caffeine is a diuretic it causes water loss from the body (through urination). Especially in summers caffeine is a very bad choice for children and it may cause dehydration.
  5. Caffeine is addictive and if stopped abruptly can cause many withdrawal symptoms like headache, irritability, temporary depression and muscle ache.
  6. Caffeine can have effects on the nervous system and may aggravate heart problems in children.
  7. Regular caffeine consumption can reduce caffeine sensitivity that means the caffeine required is higher to achieve the same effects. Thus more caffeine a child takes the more will be its need to feel the same effects.
  8. Although caffeine is not stored in the body and is passed through the urine, if a child is sensitive to caffeine he/she might feel its effects up to six hours.

Cut down the caffeine your child’s diet gradually. Offer healthy options like fresh fruit juices, water, milk, flavored seltzer, decaffeinated soda or tea. Make sure to read the nutritional fact labels for caffeine before giving them to your child.

For most individuals, kick-starting the morning with their favorite cup of coffee is almost a ritual.  This is hardly surprising as research shows the pronounced effects of caffeine on the body, brain, heart, and even your mood. It wakes you up, energizes you for the day ahead, and relaxes you at the end of a stressful day. In fact, one of the effects of caffeine on the brain includes improved concentration and a heightened sense of alertness.

However, the drawback occurs when caffeine becomes an addiction—a veritable coffee crutch. If you have experienced withdrawal symptoms from lack of coffee or heard people comment how irritable they feel without caffeine in their system, you know these are dangerous signs. Caffeine addiction may seem harmless compared to drug or alcohol abuse, but in the long term, effects of caffeine on heart rate and blood pressure may force you to make a healthy lifestyle choice and cutback on the caffeine. Individuals prone to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and even heart palpitations should stay away from caffeine enriched products.

Recent studies also emphasize the harmful effects of caffeine on women during pregnancy. Unfortunately, the damage is long term with the harmful effects of caffeine encompassing the fetus and expectant mother. In addition, alarming statistics reveal how excessive consumption may result in damaging effects of caffeine on children. Consumption of caffeine may result in children with ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Caffeine effects in regular children and children with ADHD will manifest even in adulthood with symptoms such as lack of concentration, inability to grasp concepts, and clinical depression.

However, before we discuss the effects of caffeine, it is important to understand the various natural and artificial sources of caffeine. Knowing where we encounter caffeine is the best way to limit or eliminate excess consumption. Traditionally, you consume caffeine in tea, coffee, or chocolate. However, the food industry has expanded its use of caffeine in a slew of products that we may consume without ever understanding the measure and effects of caffeine in these products. Parents need to be especially conscious of their children’s eating habits. You may refuse them a drink of coffee at home, but sodas, colas, coffee-flavored drinks, and certain food products are all enticing food items available to them. Moreover, nearly all of these contain small to significant amounts of caffeine with pronounced effects on children. For children, the intake of caffeine in these forms also has adverse effects.

Experts believe that 250 milligrams of caffeine (a 12 ounce cup of coffee) per day may actually be good for your body. Once it exceeds this amount, effects of caffeine lean towards the negative. Understanding these various traditional and nontraditional sources of caffeine may help you make healthier choices. Some of these sources are as follows:

•    Coffee. Also, even the decaf versions include small traces of caffeine.
•    Tea. Green tea also contains caffeine; however, the health benefits via anti-oxidants may cancel out the negative effects of caffeine.
•    Colas and other sodas contain considerable amounts of caffeine. Non-cola sodas may advertise themselves as caffeine free; however, some cream sodas and artificial fizzy juice drinks may also have traces of caffeine in them. Some brands of root beer may also contain caffeine.
•    Energizing drinks contain some of the largest amounts of caffeine, and you need to be particularly label savvy when it comes to these non-cola products. Even fortified water or vitamin added energy water might contain caffeine for the extra boost. Gimmicks like natural caffeine or plant-based caffeine may befuddle you. Guarana and Yerba mate are plants native to South America containing caffeine. Many food products include natural caffeine as additives. Despite what they claim, ‘natural caffeine’ is still caffeine.
•    Cocoa beans, obviously, contain caffeine. By extension, most chocolate bars and other cocoa-based products may also contain small amounts of caffeine. A golden rule to judge caffeine content in a chocolate bar is the darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine content. You may also want to watch out for chocolate products, which do not list added caffeine.
•    Coffee and chocolate flavored ice creams are no exception when it comes to caffeine.
•    Caffeine acts as a stimulant and suppressant. So, do not be surprised to read caffeine measures on the labels of your weight loss pill and even some migraine or pain relievers.

Effects of caffeine on women during pregnancy. Whether you are trying to get pregnant or you are an expectant mom, your doctor may advise you to cutback on your intake of caffeine. Research linking caffeine and children proves that excess consumption may lead to infertility and increased risk of miscarriage. Caffeine in your body may reach the fetus via the placenta. This is dangerous since excess caffeine acts as a relaxant causing a decrease in blood flow through the placenta. This can lead to limited oxygen supply to the fetus risking brain and organ development. Post pregnancy, breast-feeding mothers who consume excess coffee may unconsciously administer caffeine to children via breast milk. Elevated breathing and heart rate, restlessness and lack of sleep were noticed among babies who were breast fed by mothers who consumed excess caffeine.

Effects of caffeine on children. In recent years, the hot topic of discussion has steered to caffeine effects on children. High doses of caffeine are now available in products consumed by children. Ongoing research seeks answers on problems that children affected by caffeine face as they develop into adults. Caffeine affects children in the same way as adults. However, in a child’s body, 500 milligrams of caffeine will react faster and stronger than in an adult’s body. Effects of coffee on children and young adults may result in persistent headaches, poor digestion, lack of concentration, poor memory, sleep disorders, anxiety attacks, and increased blood pressure and heart rate.

Caffeine for children may turn into an unknowing addiction. Many children who are addicted to caffeinated beverages like colas and sodas will experience withdrawal symptoms such as headache, irritability, depression, and moodiness when denied cola drinks. Since caffeine affects the nervous system, it may worsen heart problems in children. Moreover, caffeinated drinks are usually high in sugar content and therefore, pose a risk of obesity amongst children. Also, during summers, consuming caffeine rich drinks to quench thirst may lead to your child facing dehydration. Caffeinated drinks act as diuretic, causing water loss through excessive urination. Since a child will not always understand the ill effects of caffeine, it is imperative that the parent’s are conscious of their child’s diet. Steer them away from tempting colas and introduce healthy fruit juices, milk and milk shakes, and water to hydrate them.

Clearly, children and caffeine do not go hand in hand. However, while we have presented the effects of caffeine in children suffering from ADHD and stated that excess consumption of caffeine may be a possible cause of ADHD, recent studies also show that certain ADHD symptoms may be reversed in both children and adults through caffeine therapy. However, do note that these results are inconclusive, and research to include caffeine as alternate medicine is an ongoing process. Any use of caffeine to treat ADHD in children must be strictly undertaken under the advice of your doctor or pediatrician.

Submitted on January 16, 2014