Caffeine and the Brain, how much is too much for our children?

Coffee has been around for centuries. We all know that coffee has its benefits. It helps people stay awake, it gives you a boost in the morning when you need one, and sometimes it tastes so good that we can’t resist adding an extra shot to our order. For many people, it’s the first thing they do in the morning to start their day off right or an afternoon pick-me-up.

But what about children? How does coffee affect them? Could it be harming their brain development?

Caffeine is found naturally in coffee, tea leaves, cocoa beans, or cola nuts.

Caffeine is a stimulant that can affect many parts of the brain including areas that control attention and drug craving making us more alert when we need to be like an adult having coffee at work for example. It makes your heart beat faster, raises blood pressure, and speeds up your breathing. It also can cause headaches in some people.

It has been found to have both positive and negative effects on children, adolescents, adults — even fetuses!

Some studies have shown that caffeine can delay a child’s brain development and increase hyperactivity.  It can lead to anxiety and sleep problems.

However, other studies have found that coffee improves memory and attention spans in older adults. Some people may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others are.

The effects of caffeine on children are not yet fully known however preliminary studies show that coffee drinking could affect brain development in children and adolescents.

Caffeine is associated with increased rates of psychiatric disorders in children, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience discovered that caffeine

consumption during pregnancy altered brain pathways that may lead to behavioral issues later in life.

Researchers observed these youngsters who were exposed to caffeine prenatally exhibiting behavioral problems including attention issues and hyperactivity. “What sets this apart is that we have a biological mechanism that looks different when you consume caffeine while pregnant,” says Dr. Alberto Cairo MSc (Psych).

Children’s intellectual performance has been shown to vary, or they might have different psychopathology, according to previous research. Until you have a biomarker, it’s difficult to discern whether these differences are due to demographics or genetics.

Caffeine has previously been shown to be harmful to pregnancy. It’s also known that a fetus can’t break down caffeine after it passes the placenta. This latest research suggests that caffeine may have a long-term impact on neurodevelopment in babies. The researchers note however that it’s unclear if the effect of caffeine on a fetus’ brain differs

More than 9,000 nine and ten-year-old participants in the ABCD study had their brain scans analyzed. Researchers discovered that white matter tracks — which link brain regions together – were altered in children whose mothers reported drinking coffee while pregnant.Experts say there is no evidence linking coffee consumption and delayed brain development in infants, but they advise pregnant women to avoid caffeine altogether.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends no more than two to three cups a day, which equates to about 200 mg of caffeine. However, coffee is not the only source of caffeine that pregnant women need to be careful with.

What parents should know about drinking coffee during pregnancy is that coffee drinking has been associated with low birth weight, preterm delivery and fetal growth.

-Caffeine can pass through the placental barrier to reach the fetus.

Caffeine content varies based on the source; and on how it’s prepared, so there really isn’t a safe amount during pregnancy!

The majority of the health hazards connected with energy drinks are due to their high sugar and caffeine amounts. They may lead to risk-taking behavior, such as substance abuse and aggression, “Energy drinks are the coffee of a new generation,” says Stéphanie Côté, nutritionist with Extenso, a Université de Montréal health and nutrition think-tank. Caffeine, in large amounts, has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart palpitations, irritation and anxiety, as well as headaches, weight gain, kidney damage, tiredness, stomach aches and sleeplessness.

According to Health Canada, women should not drink more than two cans of soda every day. Jennifer Temple, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at the University at Buffalo School of Public Healthhave been investigating the interaction between gender and caffeine dose. The results show boys having a greater response to caffeine than girls, as well as interactions between pubertal stage, gender, and caffeine dose,” says Temple.  “throughout puberty, females had a larger response to caffeine than males, as well as interactions between pubertal phase, gender, and caffeine dose. ” The recommended daily intake of caffeine for adolescence is about 100mg, which is about one 12 ounce coffee. The effects of caffeine can be seen in the brain within 20 minute after consumption and last for several hours. High doses of coffee or energy drinks  may mimic drug-seeking behavior such as those found with cocaine addiction.

Parents should be aware of the potential adverse effects that caffeine can have on their children. They need to know how much coffee they are giving them, and what other caffeinated products (such as sodas or energy drinks) their child is consuming in order to make an informed decision about whether these substances are appropriate for use by a child under 18 years old.

 Additionally, parents should monitor any changes in behavior after drinking caffeinated beverages because it may indicate dependence. If you notice your child behaving strangely following consumption of anything containing caffeine, consult with your doctor right away. There’s never been more information available than there is today; take advantage!

References:

Caffeine affects Boys, Girls differently, June 16, 2014, University of Buffalo

Consumption of caffeinated energ drinks rises in the United States, April 29, 2019, Elsevier

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