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Caffeine is a compound found in food and beverages. It is naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants. The main food and beverage sources of caffeine are coffee, tea, kola nuts, and chocolate, but it is also produced artificially and added to certain foods, beverages and over the counter medications. Caffeine is considered a drug because it stimulates the nervous system leading to the “caffeine buzz” (increased alertness/elevated mood) people sometimes feel.
While caffeine is thought to be safe in moderate amounts for adults, teenagers need to limit their caffeine intake for a number of reasons.
First, teens usually get most of their caffeine from soft drinks and energy drinks. These beverages tend to have added sugar and artificial flavors, filling teens with empty calories (and often replacing more nutritious beverages and foods) and undesirable additives. Higher doses of caffeine can cause anxiety, dizziness, headaches, jitters and can also lead to dependency. Although usually mild, withdrawal symptoms like tiredness, irritability, and headaches can result if a teen quits caffeine suddenly. Caffeine can also interfere with normal sleep.
Caffeine may also cause the body to lose calcium, leading to bone loss over time. Drinking caffeine-containing beverages instead of milk can have an even greater impact on bone density — adolescense is a key time during life for building calcium stores and mineralizing bones. Teens whose calcium intake might already be low or compromised due to substitute beverages are even further risk when these beverages contain caffeine.
Caffeine is also a diuretic, causing increased urination, and possibly leading to dehydration. Teens should particularly be avoiding caffeine in hot weather and during involvement in sports.It is important to remember that the feeling of “energy” from caffeine is just that, a feeling. The only true source of energy for the body is measured by the amount of calories from food and beverages. The best way to feel energized is to eat well and get enough sleep.
Check out this caffeine chart on the Kids Health web site to get an idea of the amount of caffeine in popular beverages.