Most adolescents regularly consume caffeine. Whereas observational studies have suggested that coffee may be cardio-protective, pharmacological experimentation with adults shows that caffeine at dietary doses increases blood pressure, thereby implicating regular caffeine consumption as a potential source of harm for cardiovascular health. The present study was in response to the dearth of caffeine research among younger consumers. It was hypothesised that compared to the consumption of little or no caffeine, adolescents who habitually consume caffeine have overall higher blood pressure and increased vascular resistance.
Using a quasi-experimental design, continuous measurements of blood pressure, cardiac output, and total peripheral resistance were taken non-invasively from adolescents (n = 333) aged 14–15 years and 18–19 years who reported “low”, “moderate”, or “high” levels of caffeine intake. Measurements were conducted when participants generally had negligible or low systematic caffeine levels while at rest, during stress, and during recovery from stress.
Whereas habitual caffeine consumption did not predict blood pressure level, higher caffeine intake was associated with modestly increased vascular resistance during all phases of the experiment (i.e., at rest, during stress, and during recovery from stress).
Present findings are important because they suggest that early exposure to caffeine may lead to persistent increases in vascular resistance, which in turn is an acknowledged risk factor for the development of hypertension. These results highlight the need for further studies of adolescents to determine the robustness of any persistent caffeine-related hemodynamic effects, and the implications such effects could have for long-term cardiovascular health.