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Risk assessment of caffeine among children and adolescents in the Nordic countries

image of Risk assessment of caffeine among children and adolescents in the Nordic countries

The first part of the report has its main focus on a hazard identification and characterisation of caffeine, with special emphasis on the effects on the central nervous system. Furthermore, there is a review of epidemiological and clinical studies on caffeine in children and adolescents. The Project Group identified exposures to caffeine associated with tolerance development with withdrawal symptoms and anxiety and jitteriness in children and adolescents. The second part of the report gives an overview of caffeine intakes among children and adolescents in the Nordic countries. Because access to detailed data varied among the Nordic countries, the main focus is on intake of soft drinks. Caffeine-containing soft drinks are the main source of caffeine in children and adolescents. In the risk characterisation part the Project Group compared current intakes of caffeine with exposure associated with adverse/unwanted effects. Many Nordic teenagers have an intake of caffeine that can be associated with tolerance development and withdrawal symptoms, while approximately 20 % of the teenagers might be exposed to levels of caffeine inducing anxiety and jitteriness. Including other sources of caffeine such as chocolate, tea and coffee, these figures might be higher. There are large inter-individual differences in tolerance development and some reports indicate that a substantial fraction of teenagers might have a problem with controlling their caffeine intake.

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Hazard identification and characterisation of caffeine

Caffeine is a methyl-xanthine alkaloid with the systematic name 1,3,7-trimethyl- 1H-purine-2,6(3H,7H)-dione and chemical name 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine (Figure 1). The highest concentrations are found in the leaves and beans of the coffee plant, in tea, yerba mate, guarana berries, the kola nut and cocoa. All together, caffeine is found in the beans, leaves, and fruit of more than 100 plants, where it is thought that it acts as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and kills certain insects feeding on the plants. Theophylline and theobromine are related compounds, characterized by only having two methyl groups each. When metabolized, methylxantines are de-methylated and excreted, the end product mainly being xanthine. The molecular weight of caffeine is 194.19, the CAS number is 58-08-2.

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