A central nervous system stimulant used for attention and focus
What is it?
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, and is the most commonly used drug in the world, with as many as 90 percent of adults using caffeine every day. Caffeine occurs naturally in coffee, tea, and chocolate, and is added to some foods and soft drinks; it’s also available in tablet form. Caffeine is most commonly used to overcome sleepiness and increase productivity; in some people with ADHD, it’s thought to combat common symptoms like distractibility and inattention in the same way that stimulant medications do.
How does caffeine work?
Caffeine works by stimulating the autonomic nervous system — responsible for regulating heart rate and other involuntary bodily functions like digestion. In the brain, caffeine stimulates the release of certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and blocks the absorption of others, like adenosine — a chemical linked to sleep and relaxation.
Who is caffeine for?
Caffeine is thought to be safe for most adults, when used appropriately. Lethal doses are possible, but are several times higher than most people typically consume — around 50 to 100 cups of average-strength coffee per day. Adults with high blood pressure or irregular heartbeat should talk to their doctor before using caffeine, as caffeine can increase heart rate. Caffeine has a possibility of dependence and withdrawal, though symptoms are generally mild and usually only last for a few days after caffeine use has ended.
Even as soda consumption falls nationwide, the use of caffeine among American children has continued to increase — mostly in the form of energy drinks or coffee. Evidence regarding caffeine’s effect on children is murky, experts say, with some studies indicating that it has a detrimental effect on heart rate and blood pressure. For children 12 years old and younger, experts recommend daily consumption less than 2.5 mg per kilogram of body mass. The average caffeine content of an 8-oz cup of coffee is 95 mg, which is within the limit for a child weighing 85 pounds or more.
How much does it cost?
Coffee, tea, and soda — the most common caffeine delivery systems — vary in price, from $.08 to more than $5 per 16-ounce serving. Caffeine pills usually cost between $10-$20 per 100-count bottle, and usually come in 200 mg doses.
What studies have been done on caffeine?
Studies on caffeine’s effect on ADHD symptoms have been small, and their results inconclusive. A 2005 study, for instance, found that caffeine improved spatial learning deficits in hyperactive rats. A 1975 study, on the other hand, found that caffeine was significantly less effective than stimulant medication in treating ADHD in children. Another study, conducted in 1978, found that caffeine was virtually ineffective when compared to both methylphenidate and dextroamphetamine. A 1985 study, however, found that a high dose of caffeine — around 600 mg a day — significantly controlled hyperactive symptoms in children.
Marjorie Ross Leon, Ph.D., conducted a meta-analysis of 19 studies on caffeine and concluded that, “compared to giving children with ADHD no treatment whatsoever, caffeine appears to have potential to improve their functioning in the areas of improved parent and teacher perceptions of their behavior, reduced levels of aggression, impulsiveness and hyperactivity, and improved levels of executive functioning and planning.”
Where can I learn more?
The American Psychological Association published a review in 2001 of the literature related to caffeine use in children, with and without ADHD, which can be found HERE. Mayo Clinic outlines how adults and children can use caffeine safely HERE.
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