What are sources of caffeine?

Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in cocoa beans, kola nuts, and tea leaves (Camellia sinensis). The main source of caffeine for most Americans is coffee. Herbal teas, for example chamomile, hibiscus, jasmine etc., do not contain caffeine. Chocolate is a natural source of caffeine as well. Caffeine is added to many energy drinks, sodas, and over-the-counter pills. In the United States, if caffeine is added to a food, beverage, or medication, it must be listed as an ingredient on the label. It is important to know your serving size and number of servings of caffeinated foods and beverages. Even if the amount of caffeine in one serving may seem relatively low, the caffeine can add up if you consume a large number of servings in a day. Click here for information about the caffeine content of foods and medications (Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2012).

What does caffeine do in the body?

Small to moderate amounts of caffeine act as a mild stimulant by temporarily increasing both the heart rate and blood pressure. Caffeine may affect a number of other body systems and the response to it may vary depending upon the amount consumed and how sensitive a person is to caffeine.

Does moderate caffeine intake affect bone health?

There may be a small decrease in calcium absorption associated with moderate caffeine consumption (up to 300mg of caffeine per day). In addition, there is minor increase in calcium loss in the urine for several hours after caffeine is consumed. However, when the recommended amount of calcium is consumed, the small decrease in calcium absorption and increase in calcium output caused by moderate caffeine intake can easily be offset. For example, the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can slightly reduce calcium absorption but adding a few tablespoons of milk can make up for it.

What happens when excess caffeine is consumed?

Greater bone loss and higher fracture rates have been associated with some but not all studies of populations (mostly postmenopausal women) consuming high caffeine intakes. However, caffeine intake may be a problem only if calcium intake is inadequate or in presence of other lifestyle factors negatively affecting bone health. It seems that much of the harmful effect of caffeine is not due to the caffeine itself, but is more due to the fact that caffeine-containing beverages are often consumed instead of calcium-rich beverages like milk and calcium-fortified alternatives. The evidence suggests that it is wise to avoid consuming more than moderate amounts of caffeine (more than 300 mg per day) and to make sure that the recommended amount of calcium is consumed each day.

Moderation of caffeine intake is usually best for most!

Although caffeine sensitivity varies greatly among individuals, a moderate intake of caffeine (up to 300 mg per day) is considered to be relatively harmless for most people. On the other hand, caffeine should be avoided or strictly limited by people with ulcers and those who are hypersensitive to caffeine. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are generally advised to limit caffeine.  All individuals especially those with high blood pressure, ulcers, caffeine sensitivity, pregnant women, nursing mothers, or those with any medical condition should discuss the intake of caffeine with their healthcare provider.

If you need or desire to reduce your caffeine intake, the following suggestions may help:

  • Drink decaffeinated coffee or dilute regular coffee by mixing it with decaffeinated coffee
  • Drink decaffeinated tea or caffeine-free herbal teas
  • If you prefer regular tea, brew tea for shorter amounts of time
  • Avoid caffeinated sodas and energy drinks with added caffeine
  • Speak to your pharmacist or healthcare provider to find out if any of the nonprescription medications or herbal products you take include caffeine. Do not stop or change the way you take medications without the advice of your healthcare provider.

Be sure to get the recommended amount of calcium each day!

If you consume caffeine, it is important to get the amount of calcium recommended for you each day. The first step is to estimate the calcium in your diet to find out if you are getting the amount recommended. If your calcium intake is less than the amount recommended, there are many ways to increase the calcium in your diet. If you think that you are not consuming the recommended amount of calcium in your diet, it is suggested that you discuss your individual needs with your healthcare provider.