Caffeine…. Friend… or Foe?

I’ve always been curious about whether or not caffeine actually stunted a person’s growth. Before, I heard it, but never looked into it, and cut out caffeine. Then I realized that I’m 20 and at this point, I’ll probably never be 5’8″ and said “screw it”. Taking this class, however, has sparked my interest once more.

To embark on my research, I first visited an article from Harvard Health. One of the first things it pointed out was that there is no scientific evidence to say that caffeine will stunt a person’s growth. As we have learned in class, for example with the “Does prayer heal?” question, no scientific evidence does not mean no. This could be a result of the file drawer problem. Though, it does mention the overwhelming amount of studies that have been does on coffee, which makes sense for a drink that is so widely consumed.

Apparently there was a misconception that caffeine causes osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens your bones. It’s the reasons milk was most likely shoved down your throat as a kid (calcium helps prevent osteoporosis). Yet, osteoporosis has not been linked to reducing height. However, some time ago, studies came out suggesting that caffeine leads to calcium excretion. Despite the hype this drew, the results of calcium excretion were small. Also, it was noted that coffee drinkers drink less milk, which is a clear confounding variable that would seem to have a direct connection to lack of calcium and thus osteoporosis. *Osteoporosis can lead to height loss, but this is due to fractures in the discs of the spine.

It is also noted that human growth usually ends before excessive caffeine consumption starts. Women stop growing around the age of 15-17, and boys a little after. I know at least for myself, I did not start an obsessive coffee addiction until I got to Penn State. High school was a simpler time. Also, height is something that is largely controlled by genes (nature) rather than nurture. Nurture does play a part, but if you’re upset because of your height, blame your parents, or rather genetics.

A NY Times article says it’s really just an old wives’ tale. It mentions a study involved 81 adolescents. The null hypothesis is that caffeine will not stunt a child’s growth. The alternate hypothesis is that caffeine will stunt a child’s growth. The adolescents were studied for six years. This is a longitudinal, observational study. The conclusion found that the adolescents who consumed the most caffeine did not lose any bone density. This would accept the null hypothesis and reject the alternate hypothesis. However, it could be a false negative. It does not suffer the file drawer problem clearly because it is published, but that does mean the study itself is perfect. 81 people is not a large sample size, and six years is not that long of a period to follow. Since it is an observational study, it is also not possible to rule out confounding (third) variables, which very well could have attributed to the findings. I would love to see the results of a randomized, control trial. For now, however, it looks like caffeine is in the clear.

In conclusion, we’ve all stopped growing, so consume all the caffeine you won’t. It’s not going to affect your height at this point regardless. But continue to have calcium, because osteoporosis can still happen to you.

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Sources:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-coffee-really-stunt-your-growth

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/18/health/the-claim-drinking-coffee-can-stunt-a-childs-growth.html?_r=0

1 thought on “Caffeine…. Friend… or Foe?

  1. Francis John Bassani

    I am a huge coffee drinker and lover. I depend on it every day to stay focused and finish the day. Coffee makes me feel good and I love the taste, the energy rush isn’t bad either. However for a doctors visit I was told not to eat or drink anything for 24 hours. I had drank coffee heavily for months and the one day I couldn’t get a caffeine fix, bad headaches and migraines bothered me all day. I was aggravated and in pain because of caffeine withdraw. Still though, I drink coffee and will suffer the consequences once more when caffeine is not available to me.

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