MYTH: Parents should avoid giving children caffeine-containing foods or beverages.
FACT: According to Judith Rapoport, M.D., chief of the Child Psychiatry
Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health, most children don't react adversely
to caffeine with the portions they typically consume. "With our studies, the majority of children had unremarkable
responses to caffeine," Rapoport said. "I don't do any more research on children and caffeine consumption
because the outcomes were not out of the ordinary." Rapoport recommended that parents use common sense in giving their children normal portions of caffeinated foods and beverages, including soft drinks and iced tea.
MYTH: Caffeine causes hyperactivity in children.
FACT: Studies show children are no more sensitive to caffeine than adults. Rapoport said most well-conducted scientific studies have not shown any effects of caffeine-containing foods - or diet in general - on hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder in children. "I remain skeptical of any claims that caffeine causes hyperactivity in children based on our own research and the weight of scientific evidence," said Rapoport.
MYTH: Pregnant women should avoid caffeine.
FACT: Research indicates that moderate caffeine consumption does not cause adverse health effects in the pregnant mother or child, nor does it affect fertility.
According to James Mills, M.D., chief of the Pediatric Epidemiology Section of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, "We are fortunate to have a large database on caffeine and pregnancy from different studies. Overall, the data reinforce the safety of moderate consumption of caffeine during pregnancy."
For pregnant women who wish to consume caffeine-containing foods and beverages, Mills recommended 300 milligrams per day as a safe level of caffeine intake, the amount in three to five cups of coffee or several cans of soft drinks.
MYTH: Caffeine's effects are addictive, similar to serious drugs.
FACT: "Absolutely not," said Charles O'Brien, M.D., chief of psychiatry at the Veterans Administration Medical Center and professor and vice- chairman of psychiatry at The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
O'Brien emphasized that whereas cocaine and heroin are highly addictive drugs and produce serious health, social and psychiatric effects, absolutely no evidence suggests that caffeine produces similar outcomes. In the true medical sense, caffeine "addiction" would imply using caffeine in an abusive, out of control way in an attempt to get high, or using it in a manner that is harmful to oneself or to one's family or surroundings.
"Once people reach their normal daily level of caffeine consumption, they usually have no desire to consume more," said O'Brien.
Furthermore, comparing a safe substance such as caffeine to cocaine and heroin trivializes the dangerous effects of these substances and sends mixed messages to youth. "In the end, linking caffeine with serious drugs may suggest to kids that cocaine and heroin are not as dangerous as they truely are," O'Brien said.
MYTH: It is difficult to reduce or eliminate caffeine intake.
FACT: The effects of reducing or stopping caffeine intake are mild for the vast majority of people. "The majority of people have no problems when consumption of caffeine is decreased over the course of several days rather than all at once," O'Brien said.
MYTH: Caffeine causes breast disease.
FACT: Both the American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs and the National Cancer Institute have concluded that there is no association between caffeine intake and fibrocystic breast disease. According to Laurie Green, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist with the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, "Many women wonder whether lumpiness in the breast tissue is due to caffeine. Studies show that benign breast disease - which is the lumpiness - has absolutely no link to caffeine. I feel completely comfortable with my patients consuming moderate amounts of caffeine," she added.
November/December 1995 Food Insight