The consumption of high levels of dietary caffeine has increased in children and adolescents. Human and animal studies have shown that chronic intake of high doses of caffeine affects serum glucocorticoid levels. Given that glucocorticoids play a role in peripubertal organ growth and development, chronic high doses of caffeine during puberty might impair maturation of the adrenal glands. To evaluate any effects of caffeine exposure on growing adrenal glands, 22-day-old male (n
= 30) and female Sprague Dawley rats (n
= 30) were divided into three groups (n
= 10/group); group 1 received tap water (control) and groups 2 and 3 received water containing 120 and 180 mg/kg/day caffeine, respectively, via gavage for 4 weeks. At the end of the experiment, adrenal glands were weighed and processed for histological analysis. Relative adrenal weights increased in both groups of caffeine-fed males and females, whereas absolute weights were decreased in the females. In the female caffeine-fed groups the adrenal cortical areas resembled irregularly arranged cords and the medullary area was significantly increased, whereas no such effects were seen in the male rats. Our results indicate that the harmful effects of caffeine on the adrenal glands of immature rats differ between females and males. Although female rats seemed to be more susceptible to damage based on the changes in the microarchitecture of the adrenal glands, caffeine affected corticosterone production in both female and male rats. In addition, increased basal adrenocorticotropic hormone levels in caffeine-fed groups may reflect decreased cortical function. Therefore, caffeine may induce an endocrine imbalance that disturbs the establishment of the hypothalamo–pituitary adrenal axis during puberty, thereby leading to abnormal stress responses.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited