Experts warn caffeine can make children sick

Published On: Oct 02 2013 06:30:36 AM EDT
Updated On: Oct 02 2013 06:45:00 AM EDT

There are all kinds of things, from stomach bugs to common colds, that can make our kids not feel well.  But experts say the culprit could be something entirely different, like caffeine.

Tara Harwood is a pediatric registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. She says too much caffeine in a child can cause any number of health-related problems.

"It can increase heart rate. It can decrease their ability to possibly concentrate over long-term," she warned.  "It can also affect the stomach. It can cause abdominal pain or if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, it can exacerbate the symptoms related with that."

Harwood says insomnia has also been linked to kids who have too much caffeine in their diet. She says what makes it harder for parents to keep their child's caffeine intake down is the fact that it is found in so many more foods than just soft drinks, coffee, or tea.

"There is gum with caffeine, water, cereals, brownies, lollipops- even beef jerky. There are so many products that your kids can get hold of that contain caffeine that you need to be aware of this," she said.

According to kidshealth.org, caffeine can also aggravate heart problems or nervous disorders, and some kids may not be aware that they are at risk.  It's also a diuretic, that causes the body to eliminate water, which can contribute to dehydration.  And caffeine is a drug and abruptly stopping it may cause withdrawal symptoms like headaches, muscle aches and temporary depression, especially for those who are used to consuming a lot.

So your next question may be is there a safe amount of caffeine?  Well, for adults, The Food and Drug Administration has cited 400 milligrams a day, that's about four or five cups of coffee, as an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects.

While the FDA has not set a level for children, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the consumption of caffeine and other stimulants by children as well as adolescents.

By the way, one thing that caffeine doesn't do is stunt growth. Although scientists once worried that caffeine could hinder growth, this isn't supported by research.

Harwood recommends talking with a dietitian or your pediatrician if you have concerns about how much caffeine is in your child's diet.

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