For most of us, our days begin very similar. The alarm goes off. We blindly grope in the dark to silence the offending device, and stumble out of our warm, cozy beds to face a new day. But just because our body is moving does not mean it is under any kind of intelligent control. The motor may be running, but no one is behind the wheel, yet. Most of us are on autopilot until we get at least one cup of coffee in us. The little boost we get from the witches brew of oils, esters and stimulants allows us to have some resemblance of functionality until our brains can catch up with our bodies. For adults, this is a normal way of life. But what about children? Couldn’t they also benefit from an extra little jolt to get the juices flowing. Should children drink coffee?
To answer this, we need to know something about coffee first. It’s been around for quite a while. For a long time, in the early history of coffee, it was thought to be unhealthy. In medieval times, coffee was regarded as a drug, and coffee houses were treated very similar to the opium dens of later years, subject to closure by local authorities at their whim (now you know why this period is also referred to as ‘the Dark Ages’) . Thankfully, in modern times, Starbucks is never too far away, and most convenience stores sell something that at least resembles coffee (that’s for another article). Who could imagine a Donut Shop (Krispy Kreme rules!!!) without fresh steaming hot coffee? With all this liquid ambition readily available, it would be difficult to keep children away from it, without strict regulation. But at present, anyone can buy coffee, at any age.
So, should we be concerned? It depends. Most people think the active component in coffee is just caffeine, but each cup of coffee actually contains more than 800 aromatic compounds, all of which have some physiological effect on you. The good news is that, in moderation, for persons in a normal state of health, the effects are either beneficial, or negligible. A 2004 study done by the National Institute for Health, and funded by Harvard Medical School found that coffee consumption helps prevent Type II Diabetes
( 2004 Jan 6;140(1):1-8.Coffee consumption and risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Ann Intern Med., Willett WC, Ascherio A, Manson JE, Leitzmann MF, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB.Harvard School of Public Health, Channing Laboratory, Harvard Medical School, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA). Researchers were unsure if the effect was due to caffeine, or other compounds in the coffee, because de-caffinated coffee also worked, but to a lesser degree.
Other studies have suggested that coffee may help prevent Parkinson’s Disease (Association of Coffee and Caffeine Intake With the Risk of Parkinson Disease G. Webster Ross, Robert D. Abbott, Helen Petrovitch, David M. Morens, Andrew Grandinetti, Ko-Hui Tung, Caroline M. Tanner, Kamal H. Masaki,Patricia L. Blanchette, J. David Curb, Jordan S. Popper, Lon R. White JAMA. 2000;283(20):2674-2679.doi:10.1001/jama.283.20.2674). Coffee seems to lower the risk of prostrate cancer ( Coffee Consumption and Prostate Cancer Risk and Progression in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study Kathryn M. Wilson, Julie Kasperzyk, Jennifer R. Rider, Stacey Kenfield,Rob M. van Dam,Meir J. Stampfer, Edward Giovannucci and Lorelei A. Mucci JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2011)doi: 10.1093/jnci/djr151First published online: May 17, 2011).
Other studies have suggested that coffee could be beneficial for a number of health issues. On the down-side, coffee could increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, or decrease it, depending on external factors such as stress, lifestyle and individual health. On-going research will most likely discover other benefits and issues regarding coffee in the near future. Although coffee has been with us for quite some time, research on it’s chemical properties is still in its infancy.
There is little doubt that coffee improves concentration, and could probably help children do better on tests, school lessons, and other short-term mental operations. A paper published by Dr. Tomas Paulis suggests that children who drink coffee with milk may be at a much reduced risk for depression (Coffee-The New Health Food T. Paulis, MD). As far as caffeine is concerned, children get lots of caffeine from other sources, such as soft drinks and chocolate, so a little coffee will most likely not effect their health negatively as long as they are in normally good health. Of course, coffee is a stimulate, so hyperactive children should not be given coffee, and should refrain from other sources of caffeine as well. Children should not substitute coffee for other more nutritious beverages such as juice, and milk ( actually, cows milk has way too much fat for all humans, children included. There are better sources of calcium. Cows milk was designed to provide proper nourishment for a 300 lb. baby ruminant with a 4-chambered stomach, not a 20-75 lb. young primate with a 1-chambered stomach…..but that’s for another article). Also, caffeine is a appetite-suppressant, so your children may eat less if they drink coffee. This is good if they are over-weight, not so much if they are under-weight. Parents should monitor childrens consumption of coffee (and all caffeinated products) closely. Coffee can aggravate heart problems, or nervous disorders, so children with these issues should not be allowed coffee. In excessive amounts, coffee can cause jitters, hyperactivity, and irritability in some people, children included. Be aware that coffee can also be addictive, and can have other short-term side-effects such as restlessness, heartburn, nervousness, headaches, elevated blood-pressure, and stomach problems, although these are usually associated with excessive amounts over long periods of time.
If you are in doubt about the advisability of allowing your children a moderate amount of coffee, it can be safely eliminated from the diet of both children, and adults, with no risk at all, since there is no human nutritional requirement for it ( but mentally…..that’s another story…). When in doubt, always consult with your family physician. They are your best source of information on health issues.