Over the last few decades, coffee has become a popular beverage among teenagers. While some teens enjoy coffee for its flavor, others consume it to stay alert and focussed. Recent research highlights coffee’s antioxidant and long-term health-promoting properties. But what about caffeine?
Caffeine is a psychoactive compound that stimulates the central nervous system (CNS) and brings alertness. However, its excessive consumption may have adverse effects, especially among teens whose bodies are still developing.
Read on to know all about coffee, its safe consumption in teens, and ways to limit its intake with ease.
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?
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Offer healthy beverage alternatives, such as coconut water and minimally sweetened ginger ale that offer health benefits.
Consult a healthcare provider if you feel your teen has caffeine addiction. It can provide additional support to you and your teen when your efforts alone are not of much help.
It takes persistent effort and parental guidance to control the coffee intake of a teen. If they are already consuming it daily, limit it to a cup a day, and keep other sources of caffeine away. Encourage them to pick healthier alternatives whenever possible, and limit their intake of coffee to a few days a week or special occasions.
2. Parents, Perk Up to the Dangers of Caffeine for Teens; University of Michigan
3. Health Canada is advising Canadians about safe levels of caffeine consumption; Government of Canada
4. Hae-Wol Cho; How Much Caffeine is Too Much for Young Adolescents?; NCBI
5. The Benefits & Risks of Caffeine Consumption in Kids; UPMC Pinnacle
6. A sip into dangerous territory; American Psychological Association
7. Caffeine; Harvard T.H. Chan
8. 5 Amazingly Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Cavities; University of Illinois
9. L K Massey and S J Whiting; Caffeine, urinary calcium, calcium metabolism and bone; NCBI
10. Calcium and Bone Health; Help Guide
11. Top 4 Reasons for Teens to Limit or Quit Caffeine; Cincinnati Children’s
12. Karima R. Sajadi-Ernazarova et al.; Caffeine Withdrawal; NCBI
13. Caffeine; Victoria State Government
14. Rafał J. Bułdak et al.; The Impact of Coffee and Its Selected Bioactive Compounds on the Development and Progression of Colorectal Cancer In Vivo and In Vitro; NCBI
15. Can Coffee Really Stunt Your Growth?; Harvard Health Publishing
16. Is it OK for teens to drink coffee?; University of Buffalo
17. Exercise versus caffeine: Which is your best ally to fight fatigue?; Harvard Health Publishing
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