Coffee is one of the most popular and loved drinks in the world, especially in our country. At the bar with friends, in the office with colleagues or simply at home immediately after waking up, it accompanies us in our days, becoming an essential habit.
Coffee, together with tea, contains a substance called “nervine”, which acts on the nervous system. It is common practice to refer to it as theine in the case of tea and caffeine in the case of coffee, even if in reality it is the same chemical compound.
These drinks and, more generally, the caffeine contained in them, are not always good for your health. This is the case for pregnant women: let’s find out if it is possible to drink coffee during pregnancy and if there are any risks related to its consumption.
CAFFEINE: FOODS CONTAINING CAFFEINE
Perhaps not everyone knows it, but caffeine is not only found in coffee and tea, but there are some foods that we consume often and that may contain within them this vegetable alkaloid, such as for example:
- Carbonated and sweetened drinks
- Energy drink
- Milk chocolate
- Extra melting chocolate
- Some over-the-counter drugs.
It is, in fact, a psychoactive substance, commonly used, and present in many raw materials used for the production of industrial products, such as: ice cream, candies and sweets, bakery products, chewing gum and dietary supplements.
PREGNANT COFFEE: THE RISKS
Have you ever wondered how caffeine affects our bodies and what its effects are? Our neurons produce adenosine, a neurotransmitter that signals to the brain levels of oxidative stress in our body, promoting sleep. Caffeine acts on our brain, inhibiting the production of adenosine: this is why after a coffee we feel more awake and energetic.
The relationship between caffeine and pregnancy is difficult to define: the scientific literature has expressed itself on the subject, but the numerous studies conducted over the years have given conflicting results, so that to date it is not possible to give a final ruling on the matter.
The WHO recommends that pregnant women do not exceed 300 mg of coffee per day, to reduce the risk that the baby may be born underweight.
To support this position, the Iowa State University study has reconstructed a placenta on chip, to study the passage of caffeine from mother to foetus, while the study conducted by Norwegian Institute for Public Health analyzed the association between the intake of maternal caffeine and the weight of the baby at birth.
THE STUDY OF THE IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY
Recently, researchers at Iowa State University have studied the possible effects of caffeine on the fetus, using a placenta on chip, or a reconstruction used for research, which includes maternal cells taken from a real placenta and foetal cells taken from some samples of umbilical cord. These two sets of cells are separated by a membrane, similar to the placenta barrier.
The researchers have subjected the placenta on chip to the passage of caffeine, contained not only in drinks and food, but also in drugs, highlighting some important aspects. While the mother’s body has the enzymes to process this substance (despite the fact that her pregnant body is 15 times slower to metabolize than a “normal” state), the fetus, which is developing, is not able to dispose of the caffeine properly. In fact, the body does not yet have the enzymes necessary for the metabolic process, i.e. the substances that are essential to increase the speed of biological reactions and to “break down” complex molecules into simple nutrients. For this reason, the body of the foetus could be exposed for a longer time to the possible effects of caffeine. The study also showed that a minimal concentration of caffeine is able to pass through the placenta, passing from the amniotic fluid to the blood of the fetus.
DECREASE IN THE WEIGHT OF THE NEWBORN BABY
A study conducted by the Norwegian Institute for Public Health and published in BMC Medicine in 2013 analyzed a sample of 60 mothers with different eating habits and lifestyles to examine the association between maternal caffeine intake, gestational duration (particularly the risk of spontaneous preterm delivery) and baby weight at birth.
The research showed a correlation between caffeine consumption and the increased risk of underweight babies being born. If the normal weight of a child is around 3.6 kg, the intake of caffeine by the mother could be associated with a reduction of 21-28 grams for every 100 grams of caffeine consumed.
COFFEE AND TEA DURING PREGNANCY: RECOMMENDED DAILY DOSES
As we have already mentioned, the WHO does not suggest to totally exclude from its diet the consumption of coffee, but not to exceed the daily dose of 300 mg. If you consider that a cup of coffee contains on average between 100 and 150 milligrams of caffeine, just drink no more than two cups to avoid any risks.
Tea consumption should also be limited during pregnancy, not only because of the presence of theine, but also of catechins, polyphenolic compounds that interfere in the absorption of folic acid, a substance that is essential to prevent malformations in the fetus. This advice is especially valid for those who love black tea, which contains a higher quantity of caffeine than other blends: between 25 and 50 milligrams, comparable to that of an energizing drink.
DECAFFEINATED COFFEE DURING PREGNANCY: A GUIDE TO CONSUMPTION
If a normal cup of coffee contains about 100 milligrams of caffeine, in a decaffeinated coffee the amount of this substance drops to 2 mg: the “deca”, therefore, is a valid alternative for pregnant women who can not give up the daily ritual of coffee.
Questions have often been raised about the food safety of this drink, since in the extraction method, to eliminate caffeine from coffee beans, chemical agents suspected of being carcinogenic to the human body are used: dichloromethane, water and carbon dioxide (the method most used today). Dichloromethane is an organic solvent, but it does not represent a health risk, since the beans during the roasting phase are subjected to high temperatures that allow the agents used to evaporate completely. It is therefore possible to affirm that the substances used for the production of the “deca” are harmless and no problems have been highlighted from the health point of view.
Now that we know that it is essential to limit the consumption of coffee when you are in a sweet wait, without necessarily giving up this drink: you just have to be careful and do not exceed the recommended daily dose, or two cups of espresso per day. Of course, during pregnancy, it is also important to carry out the necessary tests to check the state of gestation, adopting prevention practices that can help us both before and after childbirth. For the well-being of the whole family and for new parents who want to rely on the care of a good paediatrician, we also support ad hoc health policies, such as Family Protection for Children of UniSalute that among the services includes a program for the prevention of childhood obesity, with a path aimed at improving the nutrition and physical activity of the child.