Guidelines on caffeine intake

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In 2015 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published their Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Caffeine, advising that caffeine intakes from all sources up to 400 mg per day and single doses of 200mg do not raise safety concerns for adults in the general population.

EFSA also advised that single doses of 100 mg of caffeine may increase sleep latency and reduce sleep duration in some adult individuals, particularly when consumed close to bedtime.

In 1983, the EU Scientific Committee for Food (SCF) in its ‘Report of the Scientific Committee for Food on Caffeine’ considered the health effects of caffeine consumption7. It concluded at that time that there was no apparent reason for concern about carcinogenic or mutagenic effects of caffeine in humans at normal levels of intake. The data reviewed did not reveal any teratogenic effects in humans, or any adverse effects on human reproductive function, nor did they support any association between caffeine consumption and adverse pregnancy outcome.

It has long been acknowledged that pregnant women should moderate their caffeine intake. EFSA, in its 2015 Scientific Opinion on Caffeine recommends that, in pregnant or lactating women, caffeine intake should be decreased to 200mg per day from all sources.

For more information on caffeine intake during pregnancy click here.

In recent years concerns have been raised about caffeine consumption by children and adolescents, particularly in relation to ‘energy drinks’, which may contain other constituents that impact on health. The EFSA Scientific Opinion on Caffeine suggested that caffeine intakes of 3 mg/kg body weight per day provides a basis for calculating caffeine intakes of no concern for children and adolescents.

In UK children (5-10 years) the daily intake of caffeine was 12 mg/day at the age of 7 and 24 mg at the age of 10 years. Fifty-four percent of the caffeine absorbed came from soft drinks, 8% from tea and 38% from chocolate foods or beverages. None came from coffee11. A U.S. study has suggested that the majority of caffeine consumed by children and adolescents comes from other caffeinated beverages such as ‘energy’ drinks12.

Effects of higher intakes of caffeine

As with many elements of our daily diet, over-consumption may in some people lead to unwanted side effects. Most people consume a level of food or drink that they are comfortable with and therefore would not experience such effects. However, those who do not self-moderate their intakes of caffeine, may experience feelings of anxiety, hyper-activity, nervousness and sleep disturbance.

Caffeine decreases the quantity of sleep and mainly the temporal organisation of slow and REM sleep13. These effects might be modulated by individual differences in the expression of the gene coding for the adenosine A2A receptor14,15.  Caffeine has also been reported to increase anxiety in some individuals and this effect might also be linked to another polymorphism of the A2A receptor gene16. However, caffeine consumption is not significantly affected by its tendency to increase anxiety, in part because substantial tolerance develops to this effect17. The negative effects linked to over-consumption are usually short lived once an individual returns to their regular pattern of consumption. It is well known that these effects are more marked in some people than in others.

In most individuals, it seems that the effects of caffeine are utilised consciously or unconsciously in the management of mood state, and the choice of coffee/caffeine is influenced by the interaction between the mood state before the drink and the effects anticipated based on the content of caffeine in the drink18,19 which would hence lead most individuals to moderate and self-control their caffeine intake.

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