Is Coffee Bad For Teens? Effects Of Caffeine Over-Consumption

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Coffee is one of the most popular beverages people consume to stay focused and alert. Its moderate consumption among adults is usually considered safe, but is coffee bad for teens?

Coffee contains caffeine, a psychostimulant agent that invigorates the brain, primarily the central nervous system (CNS), and fights weariness. However, caffeine may have detrimental effects when consumed excessively, especially among teens whose bodies are growing and developing. However, recent research highlights that coffee contains antioxidants that may promote long-term health.

Read on to learn more about the safe consumption of coffee among teens and ways to help a teen limit or avoid coffee.

Is Coffee Bad For Teens?

Coffee is not generally harmful when consumed in moderation. The coffee beans are a natural source of caffeine, whose effects on teens are still not fully known. The US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) recognizes caffeine as a “safe” substance (1). Yet, its excess consumption could cause adverse effects, especially in teenagers sensitive to even a small dose of caffeine (2).

Teens may consume caffeine from multiple sources, such as tea, energy drinks, soda, and chocolates. Therefore, it is necessary to keep a check on a teen’s overall caffeine intake from all sources.  

How Much Caffeine Can A Teenager Consume?

Experts suggest adolescents and teens between the ages of 12 and 18 limit their caffeine intake to 100mg per day, that is, approximately one cup (8oz) of coffee (2) or two cups of tea. While soda contains caffeine (33mg / 8oz) energy drinks contain (100 – 150mg / 8oz).

It is ideal to keep the intake way below the limit since some teens may be more sensitive to caffeine than others, and even small amounts may produce unwanted effects (3).

What Are The Side Effects Of Overconsumption Of Coffee?

Excess consumption of coffee beyond the safe limit can expose teens to high caffeine levels, which may cause the following side effects (4) (5).

  1. Anxiety and nervousness: According to the American Psychological Association (APA), excess caffeine intake affects attention capacity, mood, and behavior (6). Sensitive teens may also experience irritability, nervousness, and anxiety (7).
  1. Persistent insomnia: Although caffeine brings alertness, excess consumption may alter the effects of hormones, such as serotonin and melatonin, that regulate sleep (7). Consuming coffee or other caffeinated beverage close to bedtime may make it difficult for a teen to fall asleep.

In fact, caffeine can induce a vicious cycle of poor sleep at night and more caffeine use in the day to compensate for the feeling of fatigue and sleepiness.

  1. Appetite loss: Caffeine stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which plays a role in suppressing hunger and enhancing satiety (7). Excess caffeine intake daily might suppress a teen’s appetite.
  1. Tooth decay: Coffee is mildly acidic and may cause tooth decay due to prolonged exposure. This risk increases further if the coffee has added sugar that can exacerbate bacterial growth inside the mouth (8).
  1. Bone loss: Excess caffeine intake may increase urinary calcium and magnesium excretion. It may increase the risk of bone loss, especially if the teen’s diet does not contain adequate calcium and vitamin-D-rich foods (9) (10).
  1. Caffeine dependence: Several teens habitually consume coffee to stay alert and focused. Registered dietitian and the founder of Sound Bites Nutrition, Lisa C. Andrews says, “As caffeine is a drug, teens may become dependent on it and suffer withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and nausea if they miss their routine coffee or energy drink.” If coffee intake ceases or if the teen is unable to get caffeine, it can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue, drowsiness, and headaches (11) (12).
  1. Hypertension and arrythmia: These may occur if the consumption is in higher amount (400mg/day in teens and 100mg/day in younger children).

Excess caffeine intake may also cause heartburn, frequent urination, dizziness, and increased heart rate. Andrews notes, “Too much caffeine is also dehydrating, which may impact their blood pressure and sports performance. It may increase the risk of headaches and migraines as well.” These short-term effects occur within five to 30 minutes of ingesting coffee and can stay up to 12 hours (13).

Caffeine may even interact with some medications, such as those for asthma. Speak to a doctor about reducing or stopping coffee intake if the teen is on any medication.  

Are There Any Health Benefits Of Coffee For Teens?

Coffee contains several bioactive compounds, such as caffeic acid, chlorogenic acids, and melanoidins (14). Regular consumption of unsweetened coffee, within recommended levels, may enhance heart health, improve mental health, lower risk of type-2 diabetes, and protect the liver (15).

However, these benefits are mostly observed among adults, and it is not known if teens experience the same effects. A well-balanced diet, good hydration, and adequate physical activity could let the teen enjoy these benefits without the need for coffee.  

How To Encourage Teenagers To Limit Caffeine Intake?

Controlling what teens eat and drink is not always possible. However, you can encourage your teens to be conscious about their caffeine intake.

  1. Do not force your teen to stop drinking coffee. “Allow them a cup per day at most but monitor their habits and intake. Limit the sugar and cream they add and encourage low-fat milk in their coffee. If nothing else, it may be a vehicle for calcium and protein.” suggests Andrews. Experts believe that drinking a cup of coffee per day does not harm children older than 12 years, provided they do not consume other sources of caffeine, such as soda (16).
  1. Motivate your teen to have coffee at home instead of having it outside. It will make it easier for you to monitor your teen’s overall caffeine intake.
  1. Guide your teen to read nutrition labels. Some beverages, such as soda, may not contain coffee but could contain caffeine. Also, some confectionery items may not mention caffeine on the nutrition label but could contain coffee.
  1. Educate teens about non-dietary sources of caffeine. For instance, some over-the-counter headache and cold medicines may contain caffeine as one of the ingredients.
  1. Be a good role model and set the right examples. Avoid sipping coffee or caffeinated beverages multiple times a day. A teenager is likely to listen to you only when they see you doing the right things.
  1. Talk to your teen and make them aware of caffeine and its effects on the body. Take their feedback and work together to fix a routine where they can either stop or limit caffeine intake comfortably.
  1. Motivate them to stay physically active. Physical activity alerts the brain and boosts energy by releasing hormones, such as endorphins. It could help the teen stay alert and active without the need for coffee (17).
  1. Offer healthy beverage alternatives, such as coconut water and minimally sweetened ginger ale that offer health benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. At what age can coffee be consumed?

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages the consumption of coffee by children under 12 years since it can cause anxiety and sleep issues (18).

2. What does caffeine do to a teenager?

Caffeine has a dose-response effect, which may be harsher in children due to their smaller bodies. Most teenagers consume specialty coffee drinks loaded with whipped cream and sugar from cafes and restaurants. They may contribute to excessive sugar and calorie consumption if consumed regularly or in large quantities (18).

Many parents find themselves in a tricky situation when deciding whether or not to give coffee to their teens. They constantly ask themselves, “is coffee bad for teens?” and often stop their wards from consuming it. Coffee is generally safe for teens if consumed in moderation. Coffee contains caffeine, which stimulates the brain and central nervous system. Hence, its excessive consumption may cause several adverse effects such as insomnia, anxiety, and nervousness. So track your teen’s caffeine intake and introduce them to healthy beverage alternatives to avoid addiction.

Infographic: Quantity And Sources Of Caffeine

Manufacturers’ labels may hide caffeine in the ingredients list as it is not yet mandatory to mention caffeine, whether naturally present in an ingredient or added. The caffeine content may vary in similar products from various brands. You may look for ingredients known to be caffeine sources to be a smart consumer.

Check out this infographic to know the approximate quantity and common sources of caffeine to help teens regulate their daily caffeine intake.

high caffeine content foods and beverages [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Teens and adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 should limit their caffeine intake to 100mg per day.
  • Anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, loss of appetite, dental decay, bone loss, caffeine dependence, hypertension, and arrhythmia are some side effects of overconsumption of coffee.
  • Limited and regular consumption of unsweetened coffee may help improve mental health, protect the liver and reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different... more

Dr. Pooja Parikh

(MBBS, DCH, DNB)
Dr. Pooja Parikh is a pediatrician whose medical journey has taken her from Rajkot (PDUMC) to Vadodara (SSGH) to Mumbai (Hinduja & Breachcandy Hospital). Currently she is actively involved in critical, intensive and general care of 0 to 18-year-olds in the port town of Gandhidham, where she was born and brought up. She believes that a doctor should be involved... more

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