Coffee and Kids: Wonder Beverage or Devil’s Brew?

There has recently been a lot of talk about a very old beverage, coffee.

The occasion for this has been the admission by seemingly responsible parents that they actually give their young child a cup of coffee with breakfast. Egads – what is the world coming to?

With some guilt, I admit my 8-year-old had a cup with her Fruit Loops this morning, as she does most mornings. (Please don’t report me to CPS).

So is coffee bad for kids? The old cup-a-joe has a long and somewhat sordid history. Going back to the days of dirt and plague, coffee was associated with all manner of dark things, like most of what went on in the Middle Ages, with no scientific basis.

Yet coffee is one of the most studied beverages on the planet, not surprisingly as there are nearly 1000 organic chemicals in a cup of brew. Caffeine is the one that everyone talks about. This is an interesting chemical, a mild stimulant in the methyl xanthene family. This is closely related to adrenalin and medications that are used to treat asthma. Coffee is a well known bronchodilator. So coffee certainly isn’t bad for kids with asthma.

One of the other effects of coffee is to mildly raise dopamine levels in the brain. You’ve heard of raising dopamine in talking about antidepressants, like Prozac. In fact kids who drink a cup of coffee with milk per day have a significantly lower rate of depression. So coffee isn’t bad for sad kids.

Caffeine is a stimulant and recently parents of kids with attention deficit disorder have been experimenting on their kids.

The thought goes something like this: if the stimulant amphetamine helps kid with ADHD focus and concentrate, maybe a good cup of coffee will do the same. Funny thing is, it does seem to help. We don’t have any huge definitive studies to quote, but limited research shows coffee helps kids with ADHD focus and concentrate. It doesn’t help as much as Adderall, but it does help. For some kids, coffee is all they need. For other kids who don’t get enough benefit from medications, adding a cup of coffee helps. So coffee isn’t bad for kids with attention deficit disorder.

What about other kids? My daughter had a cup this morning. She isn’t challenged by ADD, or depression, thankfully. She just likes a cup in the morning like I do. Coffee doesn’t stunt your growth or hurt your development in any way we have found. It actually does some good stuff. Parkinson’s disease is reduced in coffee drinkers as is colon cancer, liver disease and Type 2 diabetes. All well proven. Early research on Alzheimer’s disease suggests its occurrence is reduced in coffee drinkers.

For those still thinking coffee is an adult only vice, I invite you to consider normal kid breakfast drink alternatives. What do your kids drink for breakfast? Popular orange drinks have many times the sugar of coffee. Other beverage choices have higher fat or cholesterol content. In this epidemic of obesity, nobody ever got fat on coffee.

So tomorrow morning when I pour my cup, I will cheerfully give some to my 8-year-old; she gets her own cup because I don’t like to share.

Take care

Dr B

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2 responses to “Coffee and Kids: Wonder Beverage or Devil’s Brew?

  1. My 7yr old grandson has ADHD and I have found that small amount of coffee in the morning before school actually helps with his performance on tests that morning. He is able to sit still and focus on the task before him. He also really enjoys drinking it with his breakfast and he will actually eat something before heading off to start his day. I think it makes him feel more in control.

  2. I have read so much about this, but yet I am still so scared to give my 12 year old coffee. She has ADHD and has been on two types of meds so I wonder how a little bit of coffee will damage her, but I can’t help feeling scared to give it to her. I will try it, but I don’t know exactly how much to give her. I have tried everything, but her concentration is no good and her memory span is so short. I guess it’s just one more thing to try instead of drugs! Thanks!!!

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