EU raises red flag over excess caffeine intake

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Patients who aren't drinking coffee shouldn't start drinking because of the findings of the study. If they do wish to start, its best that they first discuss it with their physicians.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) has issued a warning over excess caffeine intake as it could lead to heart problems, insomnia, panic attacks and other health issues.

The EFSA carried out the risk assessment over safety of caffeine after some EU Member States raised concerns about the safety of caffeine consumption in the general population and in specific groups, such as adults performing physical activity, and individuals consuming caffeine together with alcohol or substances found in energy drinks.

EFSA found during its study that coffee was the predominant source of caffeine for adults, contributing between 40 per cent and 94 per cent of total intake. In case of Ireland and the United Kingdom, tea was the main source, contributing 59 per cent and 57 per cent of total caffeine intake respectively.

Noting that there is a large difference among countries regarding the contribution of different food sources to total caffeine intake among adolescents, the EFSA said that chocolate was the main contributor in six surveys, coffee in four surveys, cola beverages in three, and tea in two.

EFSA found that in most countries chocolate (which also includes cocoa drinks) was the predominant source of caffeine for children aged 3 to 10 years, followed by tea and cola drinks.

The study concluded that there could be short-term adverse effects of caffeine on adults and children including issues related to the central nervous system such as interrupted sleep, anxiety and behavioural changes. In the longer term, excessive caffeine consumption has been linked to cardiovascular problems and, in pregnant women, stunted foetus development.

EFSA’s panel on NDA notes that single doses of caffeine up to 200mg – about 3mg per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg bw) from all sources do not raise safety concerns for the general healthy adult population. Further, the same amount of caffeine does not raise safety concerns when consumed less than two hours prior to intense physical exercise under normal environmental conditions.

According to EFSA people were consuming more than the safe levels of caffeine because they are unaware of all the different sources of caffeine. Further, safe levels for children and pregnant women are much lower.