The effects of caffeine on people with ADHD
Most people will experience difficulties with paying attention or settling down at certain times. For a person with ADHD, however, these symptoms are on-going and can be quite severe. They can interfere with both school performance and other important areas of daily life.
Doctors often prescribe stimulant medications to manage the condition. However, several studies have advised that the caffeine content of tea and coffee could provide benefits for concentration and focus.
In this article, we look at the relationship between caffeine and ADHD, its safety, and whether to use the stimulant as a measure for treating ADHD in children.
Caffeine and ADHD
Caffeine is common in coffee, but knowing how much caffeine a person is consuming can be difficult.
Caffeine is a stimulant and the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world.
As most medicinal treatments for ADHD involve stimulants that activate the nervous system, some research advocates using caffeine to moderate the effects of the disorder.
A 2013 study in European Neuropsychopharmacology suggests that caffeine could be useful as a treatment, as it appears to normalize levels of dopamine and improve attention in people with ADHD.
Another study from 2011 in Medical Hypotheses suggests that caffeinated tea may help adults with ADHD.
A 2014 review in Journal of Psychopharmacology review also recommends the use of caffeine in ADHD treatment, as it represses the action of adenosine receptors in the brain. Cognition and attention involve the adenosine receptors and the review suggests that this could contribute to the stimulating effects of caffeine in people with ADHD.
Though caffeine is similar to many ADHD medications, it may not be as effective for the following reasons:
- Caffeine content varies between most food products and drinks. A person may not know exactly how much caffeine they are getting from a particular product. Even brewing coffee or tea from one jar can lead to variations in the caffeine content of each cup. This can complicate measuring a caffeine dose.
- Caffeine alone may not be enough to treat ADHD. The medications that doctors prescribe contain higher, controlled doses of stimulants that specifically treat ADHD. Caffeinated foods and drinks may not provide enough of the drug, especially for people with severe ADHD.
- Taking caffeine alongside other ADHD medications can cause a stimulant overload, increasing the risk of adverse effects.
Stimulants can be safe and effective as an ADHD treatment, but they are not safe for all people to take.
People with the following health conditions may be advised by their healthcare providers to avoid stimulants, including caffeine:
Other adverse effects of stimulants might include:
- trouble sleeping
- lower appetite or stomach ache
- anxiety or irritability
- tics, or sudden repetitive movements or sounds
- shaking or tremors
These side effects are more likely to occur if a person consumes large amounts of a stimulant. Some people have a higher sensitivity than others to caffeine and stimulants.
Caffeine and children
Caffeine has a range of harmful side effects in children.
Children and teenagers should only attempt to use caffeine as an ADHD treatment under medical supervision.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say many children already exceed safe levels of caffeine in the diet, mostly through soda intake.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet recommended limits for caffeine intake in young people, but the Canadian government recommends not exceeding 45 milligrams (mg) for 4-6 year-olds, 62 mg for 7-9-year-olds, and 85 mg for 10-12-year-olds. A 12-ounce soda contains 30-48 mg of caffeine.
A 2010 study in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews suggests that caffeine could have effects in children and teens that differ from the effects in adults.
Caffeinated beverages, such as soda, can interfere with growth and brain development by reducing sleep and reducing nutritional intake.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends not giving energy drinks to children, as the high levels of caffeine and other stimulants can cause serious health problems.
People have reported seizures, heart problems, and mood or behavior issues after consuming these beverages, according to a report in the journal Pediatrics.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder in which a person exhibits a range of behaviors which can involve disruptive amounts of energy and easy distraction.
Some cite caffeine as an effective medication for ADHD, and some studies have shown that it can reduce some of the behaviors common among people with ADHD. However, it is also difficult to measure a dose of caffeine, and taking caffeine alongside other stimulants can cause a stimulant overload.
Doctors believe that caffeine in most of its commercial forms is strong enough to treat ADHD alone. Both adults and children have the best chance of managing symptoms with effective medication under medical supervision. Discuss these issues with a healthcare provider
Some authorities suggest limiting caffeine intake in children sas it may interfere with development and may lead to dangerous side effects.
Are there other stimulants that are widely available in food and also capable of reducing ADHD symptoms?
Stimulants are present in several foods and drinks, such as coffee, tea, and chocolate.
As we pointed out in this article, however, the exact dose of caffeine is difficult to measure as it may vary from one person or product to the next. While some people would love to hear “eat a chocolate bar every day,” this would probably not be sound advice.
The individual should work with their healthcare provider to determine both conventional and alternative treatments that may be the best fit for that person and their presentation of ADHD.Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.