Caffeine Increases Risk of Miscarriage, Study Finds

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By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 21, 2008

Caffeine consumption by pregnant women can significantly increase the risk of miscarriage, according to new research.

The study, involving more than 1,000 pregnant California women, provides the most convincing evidence to date of such a link, the researchers said.

Research previously indicated an increased risk, but scientists were unsure whether those findings were affected by the fact that women having morning sickness might be less likely to drink caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, and less likely to have miscarriages.

"The relationship between caffeine intake and miscarriage was controversial," said De-Kun Li, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif., who led the study. "The question has been whether this association is really due to caffeine itself or something else."

To answer that, Li and his colleagues studied 1,063 women in the San Francisco area early in their pregnancies. They questioned the women in detail about their beverage consumption and whether they were experiencing morning sickness.

Those women who consumed 200 milligrams of caffeine or more a day were about twice as likely to miscarry, the researchers report today on the Web site of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. That's about the amount of caffeine in two five-ounce cups of coffee, five 12-ounce cans of soda or six five-ounce cups of tea, Li said.

The findings are consistent with those of earlier studies, which have found an increased risk of miscarriage from daily consumption of about 150 to 300 milligrams of caffeine, Li said.

"But we went one step further in determining whether it was the caffeine itself or it was women changing their drinking pattern," he said. "My hope is our study will remove that uncertainty. I think this should put the argument to rest."

Based on the findings, Li recommended that women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant minimize caffeine intake.

"If they have to drink caffeine-containing beverages, they should reduce the amount to one cup a day at the most," he said.

Tracy Flanagan, director of women's health at Kaiser Permanente, agreed.

"Avoiding [caffeine] may be even better. Consider switching to decaffeinated coffee and other decaffeinated beverages during your pregnancy," she said. "Learn to perk up instead with natural energy boosts, like a brisk walk, yoga stretches, snacking on dried fruits and nuts."

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