May 30, 2015

Coffee health limit exaggerated

The Herald says

Drinking the caffeine equivalent of more than four espressos a day is harmful to health, especially for minors and pregnant women, the European Union food safety agency has said.

“It is the first time that the risks from caffeine from all dietary sources have been assessed at EU level,” the EFSA said, recommending that an adult’s daily caffeine intake remain below 400mg a day.

Deciding a recommended limit was a request of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, to try to find a Europe-wide benchmark for caffeine consumption.

But regulators said the most worrying aspect was not the espressos and lattes consumed on cafe terraces across Europe, but Red Bull-style energy drinks, hugely popular with the young.

Contrast that with the Scientific Opinion on the safety of caffeine from the EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (PDF of the whole thing). First, what they were asked for

the EFSA Panel … was asked to deliver a scientific opinion on the safety of caffeine. Advice should be provided on a daily intake of caffeine, from all sources, that does not give rise to concerns about harmful effects to health for the general population and for specific subgroups of the population. Possible interactions between caffeine and other constituents of so-called “energy drinks”, alcohol, synephrine and physical exercise should also be addressed.

and what they concluded (there’s more than 100 pages extra detail if you want it)

Single doses of caffeine up to 200 mg, corresponding to about 3 mg/kg bw for a 70-kg adult are unlikely to induce clinically relevant changes in blood pressure, myocardial blood flow, hydration status or body temperature, to  reduce perceived extertion/effort during exercise or to mask the subjective perception of alcohol intoxication. Daily caffeine intakes from all sources up to 400 mg per day do not raise safety concerns for adults in the general population, except pregnant women. Other common constituents of “energy drinks” (i.e. taurine, D-glucurono-γ- lactone) or alcohol are unlikely to adversely interact with caffeine. The short- and long-term effects of co-consumption of caffeine and synephrine on the cardiovascular system have not been adequately investigated in humans. Daily caffeine intakes from all sources up to 200 mg per day by pregnant women do not raise safety concerns for the fetus. For children and adolescents, the information available is insufficient to base a safe level of caffeine intake. The Panel considers that caffeine intakes of no concern derived for acute consumption in adults (3 mg/kg bw per day) may serve as a basis to derive daily caffeine intakes of no concern for children and adolescents.

Or, in even shorter paraphrase.

<shrugs> If you need a safe level, four cups a day seems pretty harmless in healthy people, and there doesn’t seem to be a special reason to worry about teenagers.





Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »


  • avatar

    Recently, I was wondering about the fairly strict warning labels on energy drinks (maximum 500 mL daily seems to be the consensus across brands) given that their caffeine content is “only” about 300 mg/L. The high sugar (of the non-diet ones) is probably more relevant to health, along with the acidity for dental health. Also some brands are pretty high in sodium.

    It seems plausible that caffeine isn’t the main concern with these drinks.

    2 years ago

    • avatar
      Thomas Lumley

      Yes, I’d agree. I think it’s a pity the EFSA caffeine story is being spun as a finding of risks for energy drinks when it’s more or less the opposite.

      2 years ago