Sep 15, 2014


Dr. Gellner: Is it a good idea for your child to have caffeine? That's what we're going to talk about today. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner for The Scope.

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Dr. Gellner: So most people wouldn't even dream about giving their kids a mug of coffee, but you might give them soda. This soda has caffeine too. Why is it different? Well, there is caffeine everywhere right now, but it is wise to keep caffeine consumption to a minimum in kids. While the United States hasn't developed guidelines for caffeine intake in kids, Canada has, and they recommend preschoolers don't get more than 45 mg of caffeine a day. That's the equivalent amount of caffeine in a 12 oz. can of soda. Now don't forgot, soda doesn't just have caffeine, it has a lot of sugar, and a lot of calories, so soda's not a good idea to begin with, but caffeine gives you one more reason to not give your child soda.

So how does caffeine affect kids? I think we pretty much all know caffeine is a stimulant. Caffeine is actually defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system. Again, at lower levels, it can make people feel alert and energetic, but when kids get too much caffeine, same with adults, you can feel jittery, nervous. It can make your stomach really upset. You can get headaches. Caffeine withdrawal also causes headaches. You can have a hard time concentrating. Instead of feeling more alert, you're actually so wired that you can't focus. It definitely decreases your ability to sleep. It also increases your heart rate, and it really does a number on your blood pressure. It raises your blood pressure.

It doesn't take a lot of caffeine to produce these affects in kids. Adults, you need more, but in kids, not so much. So why is it a problem for kids to drink caffeinated beverages? Well, first off as we talked about the sugar and calories, don't forget, kids who consume one or more 12 oz sweetened soda per day are 60% more likely to be overweight. Drinking too many sweetened caffeinated drinks can lead to cavities. Don't forget, not only does soda have caffeine, it also has acid. That can actually erode the tooth enamel. That's why you see cavities in kids who drink a lot of sugary drinks.

So what else does caffeine do to your body? Well, caffeine's a diuretic. That's a word for makes you pee. Kids who drink a lot of caffeine are also going to be making a lot of trips to the bathroom. So when kids are outside playing, you also want to make sure they don't drink a lot of caffeinated beverages then because they need water to replace what they're losing in sweat, not a drink that's actually going to make them more dehydrated.

If your child has been drinking a lot of soda and caffeine, you stop giving them all the soda and caffeine and abruptly stopping it can cause withdrawal symptoms. Again, it's a drug. You can get withdrawal from it. Again, we talked about the headache, we can also get muscle aches, feel temporarily depressed actually because you just feel really slow and down and sluggish, and kids who also abruptly stop caffeine can be very irritable. One thing caffeine does not do, it does not stunt your growth. Scientists once worried that caffeine would hurt your growth, but that's not supported by the research. Again, not a good reason to drink soda though.

So again, most kids get their caffeine from sodas. It's also found in coffee, and tea, including ice tea, chocolate, coffee ice cream, frozen yogurts, some pain relievers, but those pain relievers are not available for children. Again, make sure all of your medications are kept out of the reach of kids.

So just how much caffeine do your favorite beverages have? Well, Mountain Dew is a favorite that I hear a lot from a lot of kids. Twelve ounces of Mountain Dew packs 55 milligrams of caffeine. To give you an idea, Jolt soda that they used to sell as something, "Hey come on, get your caffeine on with Jolt," 71 milligrams of caffeine. Coke has 34 milligrams. Diet Coke has 45 milligrams, so just because you're switching to diet doesn't mean you're decreasing your caffeine. Switching to something like 7-Up would be better because 7-Up has none.

So, again, you wouldn't normally think that kids drink coffee, but I do have some patients that drink coffee. Five ounces of coffee has 115 milligrams of caffeine. Iced tea has 70 milligrams in 12 ounces. Dark chocolate, which is actually something we usually say if you're going to eat chocolate, eat this one because it's better for you, it has 20 milligrams in one ounce. Milk chocolate, one ounce has six milligrams. Chocolate milk, it's actually a better alternative than soda, eight ounces has five milligrams. So it still has some, but not that much. So it's still a much better choice and you get your calcium from it.

How do you get your kids to cut back on caffeine? It's not easy. Instead of offering sodas, things like that, offer milk, water, fruit juice in small amounts. I usually say about one juice box a day. You could also make sure that everything that you're serving for the kids is convenient. It's really easy to pick up a bottle of soda, twist the top, or pop the lid open and drink something. Well, have water and things like that in squeeze bottles, make it fun for them.

Make sure that if you have a teenager and if they've taken up coffee drinking, make sure that you cut back on the coffee. Don't forget those fun slushie-like drinks from Starbucks, that has caffeine too, so make sure your kids, especially your teenagers don't drink those either. I see a lot of kids coming in with those in addition to those energy drinks.

Someone who is cutting back from caffeine is going to feel tired. And the best way to get over that tired hump there, is to get some sleep. Don't reach for a soda or more caffeine; you're just going to set yourself backwards. What your body is doing, is it's saying, "Hey, I know you're cutting back on the caffeine, I need some more rest." Don't worry; the energy levels that you are looking for, they'll return back to normal in a few days once your body gets the caffeine out of your system. And it's okay, yeah, chocolate it's okay. Let your kids have some chocolate cake at birthday parties or hot chocolate, things like that. They don't have enough caffeine in them to be harmful, like the sodas do. But the bottom line is, as with everything, moderation is the key to keeping your kids caffeine consumption under control.

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