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High Caffeine Levels Linked to Potential Osteoporosis Risk

People drinking coffee

Key Takeaways

  • Drinking excess caffeine could cause calcium loss in the body, which may affect bone health, researchers suggest.
  • The study looks at a very high amount of coffee drinking, but even those drinking moderate amounts may raise risk with energy drinks.
  • Devoted coffee drinkers can improve bone health by getting more calcium and exercising regularly, dietitians advise.

High doses of caffeine consumed over a six-hour timeframe can have a significant effect on the amount of calcium loss in the body, which could raise the risk of osteoporosis, according to a study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Researchers asked 24 participants to chew either a gum with a high amount of caffeine or a non-caffeinated version in numerous intervals over six hours. Those in the caffeine group consumed about 800 milligrams of the compound.

Although the initial purpose of the study was to examine the impact of consumption on wakefulness, the impact on calcium loss was more striking, they concluded. During the study timeframe, caffeine group participants had a 77% increase in calcium in their urine, which meant the kidneys were releasing calcium at a much higher rate than normal.

Researchers noted that more work will have to be done to determine the effect on short- and long-term bone health, but they add that osteoporosis occurs most often when bones lose calcium and other minerals faster than the body can replace them.

It Concerns More Than the Elderly

Older adults tend to be top of mind when discussing osteoporosis risk—and for good reason, since bone density does decrease with age. However, the researchers noted that teenagers should also have caffeine limits since their bones are still developing. Also, professional athletes often use caffeine for performance enhancement but could be affecting bone health if consumption is too high.

"Keep in mind the research here is an excessive amount of caffeine intake, with about eight cups daily, and most people aren’t drinking that much coffee," says Shena Jaramillo, RD, a registered dietitian at Peace & Nutrition.

However, it’s possible to get more caffeine than you think if you add other caffeinated beverages to your days such as energy drinks and sodas.

Moderation is Key

If you’re drinking a very high amount of caffeine daily, it may be worth considering cutting back to some degree, says Kristin Gillespie, MS, RD, dietitian and nutritional counselor. But that doesn’t mean cutting out coffee or black tea altogether, since previous research has singled out some benefits of moderate consumption. That includes:

  • Improved brain function like memory and reaction times
  • Higher metabolic rate
  • Better exercise performance
  • Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Shena Jaramillo, RD

Drinking one to two cups a day is fine, and may even be beneficial. It's when you're getting excessive [caffeine] that the health risks come into play.

— Shena Jaramillo, RD

"In terms of calcium loss, moderation will make its impact fairly minimal," says Jaramillo. "Drinking one to two cups a day is fine, and may even be beneficial. It's when you're getting excessive [caffeine] that the health risks come into play."

Balancing Out Caffeine

To make sure you’re not sabotaging your bone health when your caffeine intake begins to skew higher, there are a few strategies that can be helpful. Gillespie suggests making sure you’re consuming adequate calcium and vitamin D, since these nutrients are critical in maintaining bone density and minimizing the risk of osteoporosis. Some foods contain one or both of these nutrients, including:

  • Seeds like sesame and chia
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Sardines and canned salmon
  • Nuts, especially almonds
  • Dark leafy greens

"If you’re having difficulty getting enough of foods like these, supplements are available and you can often find one that combines calcium and vitamin D in one dose," says Gillespie. "If possible, though, start with food since you'll be getting other nutrients and fiber as well."

Kristin Gillespie, RD

If you’re having difficulty getting enough of foods like these, supplements are available and you can often find one that combines calcium and vitamin D in one dose.

— Kristin Gillespie, RD

Also, calcium is not the only mineral boosting bone density, adds Jaramillo. Magnesium and phosphorus intake are crucial, so focusing only on one isolated nutrient is limiting, she says. Fortunately, many of the items on the calcium list also boast these other minerals, particularly dark leafy greens like kale, chard, and spinach.

"Another major way to improve bone health is through exercise," Gillespie suggests. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are particularly helpful." These activities are especially important as you age since osteoporosis is more common in older adults.

Additionally, taking medications like corticosteroids, thyroid medications, and SSRIs can increase the risk of the condition. Physical activity has been shown to play a role in the prevention of osteoporosis, especially when done consistently and using strength training.

“These strategies can be helpful in combatting caffeine-related issues like osteoporosis risk,” says Gillespie.

What This Means For You

Drinking large amounts of caffeine may lead to significant calcium loss that may affect your bone health, which is why moderation is key. Counteracting calcium loss with additional nutrient intake and exercise is important for bone health as people age.

 

 

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