Intake of caffeine and other methylxanthines during pregnancy and risk for adverse effects in pregnant women and their foetuses

image of Intake of caffeine and other methylxanthines during pregnancy and risk for adverse effects in pregnant women and their foetuses

The first part of the report deals with occurrence of methylxanthines in foods, beverages, and medicines, and estimates of caffeine intake. In addition, a short review of the pharmacological and toxicological actions of caffeine is given. The second and main part of the report reviews available information from epidemiological studies on the potential health hazards to the human foetus associated with parental intake during pregnancy of caffeine and related methylxanthines in foods, beverages and medicines. The studied adverse effects are influence on fertility, spontaneous abortion, congenital malformation, pre-term delivery, foetal growth retardation, foetal behaviour and effects on neonates, infants and young children. The conclusion of the report demonstrates the need for limiting caffeine exposure during pregnancy. The Nordic Working Group on Food Toxicology and Risk Evaluation (NNT) recognizes that the human exposure to caffeine and related compounds causes a spectrum of pharmacological effects, for instance cardiovascular, renal, neurological and behavioural effects. The increasing use of caffeine and related methylxanthines in various foods and beverages consumed by children and adolescents cause concern. NNT recommends that a full hazard characterization of caffeine and related methylxanthines should be performed with the aim to reach a conclusion about the upper safe level of intake of these compounds.



Discovery of caffeine and related compounds

The discovery of caffeine has been excellently reviewed by B.A. Kihlman in his book 'Caffeine and Chromosomes' (1977). Although not called caffeine or 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine at the time, German and French workers discovered the compound independently by in the early 1820s. In the book 'Neueste Phytochemische Entdeckungen zur Begründung einer wissenschaftlichen Phytochemie', Ferdinand Runge (1820) described a substance with basic properties which he had isolated from green coffee beans, and which he termed 'Kaffebase'. This publication appears to contain the first detailed description of caffeine. However, during the same year his German colleague F. von Giese (1820) reported in a letter to Scherer's 'Allgemeine nordische Annalen der Chemie für die Freunde der Naturkunde und Arzneiwissenschaft' that he had found a new alkaloid in extracts of coffee beans. He called the alkaloid 'Kaffeestoff', but subsequently declared it to be identical with Runge's 'Kaffebase' (von Giese, 1821).


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