What You Need to Know About Caffeine and ADHD

Health Writer

Caffeine has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. One story tells of the leaves from a bush blowing into water being boiled by a Chinese Emperor in 2,737 BC and creating the first cup of tea. Another story tells of a goat herder who noticed his goats "dancing" after eating red berries from what is now known as a coffee plant. It is also said that coffee beans were consumed as food and used as money in Africa as far back as 575 AD. In the New World, Spanish explorers were given a chocolate drink by the Aztecs in 1519 AD. No matter which stories are correct, it is clear that the stimulating effects of caffeine have been around for a long time.

In a previous post, "Can a Cup of Coffee Help Reduce ADHD Symptoms?" I explained that the research surrounding caffeine and ADHD is mixed. Some studies have found that it helps with memory while others show it can improve concentration but decrease short term memory. Using caffeine has been found to be less effective for controlling symptoms of ADHD than stimulant medication but better than using nothing.

Many people with ADHD, both adults and children, turn to caffeine to help reduce symptoms of ADHD, improve focus and, surprisingly, help them sleep. Because it is a stimulant, caffeine works in similar ways as medications such as Ritalin. While stimulants can have the making those without ADHD more energetic, because of the unique ADHD brain, stimulants have the opposite effect, calming people with ADHD. Caffeine does the same.

If you use caffeine to help control and manage ADHD symptoms, here are 7 things you should know:

Caffeine tolerance is different in each person. You might know someone who seems able to drink coffee or tea all day without much effect. Another person might drink one cup of coffee and get jittery and nervous. Some people might metabolize caffeine slower (stays in their system longer) while others metabolize it much quicker.

While studies have not proven there is a risk for unborn children if women consume caffeine during pregnancy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still advises pregnant women to reduce caffeine consumption during pregnancy.

Caffeine is not considered a nutrient and therefore does not need to be listed on food labels, just included in the ingredients. Some energy drinks do not include caffeine content but most contain anywhere from 160 to 500 mg. of caffeine.

Decaffeinated products may still contain some caffeine. These types of products go through a decaffeination process to remove most of the caffeine but it is not considered to be caffeine free.

Some studies have shown health benefits of coffee, such as reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, reduced inflammation, diabetes, skin cancer, Parkinson's disease, stroke and endometrial cancer. These studies are not definitive but do show consistent health benefits from caffeine.

Caffeine also can cause negative health concerns, such as increased blood pressure, stomach aches, insomnia and anxiety.

Caffeine may be helpful for children with ADHD, however, experts caution that you should talk with your physician before giving your child caffeinated foods and beverages.

The American Medical Association states that "Moderate tea or coffee drinkers (moderate is 3 cups of coffee per day or 300 mg. of caffeine) probably need have no concern for their health relative to their caffeine consumption provided other lifestyle habits (diet, alcohol consumption) are moderate as well." Drinking coffee or tea to help you gain some focus or calm down is probably not going to hurt you.