If You Have Migraines Put Down Your Coffee And Read This
- By Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
During medical school, a neurologist taught me that the number one cause of headaches in the US was coffee.
That was news to me! But it made more sense when he clarified that he meant lack of coffee. His point was that for people who regularly drink coffee, missing an early morning cup, or even just having your first cup later than usual, can trigger a caffeine withdrawal headache. And considering how many daily coffee drinkers there are , its likely that coffee withdrawal is among the most common causes of headaches.
Later in my neurology rotation, I learned that caffeine is a major ingredient in many headache remedies, from over-the-counter medicines such as Excedrin and Anacin, to powerful prescription treatments such as Fioricet. The caffeine is supposed to make the other drugs in these combination remedies work better and, of course, it might be quite effective for caffeine-withdrawal headaches.
But then I learned that for people with migraine headaches, certain drugs, foods, and drinks should be avoided, as they can trigger migraines. At the top of this list? Coffee.
So, to review: the caffeine in coffee, tea, and other foods or drinks can help prevent a headache, treat a headache, and also trigger a headache. How can this be?
Nuts Can Worsen Migraines
These are delicious, full of proteins, and sating. However, they also contribute to the excessive secretion of histamine. In addition, almonds, nuts, and cashews contain sulfites, among others.
Sulfites could enhance the symptoms of migraines and trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people, according to a study conducted in 2011.
Understanding Food Triggers For Chronic Migraine
by Health Writer
Heres a little food for thought: For some people who struggle with chronic migraines, mealtime can be a veritable minefield. The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio estimates that 20% of headache patients are food sensitive . Common offenders are like a smorgasbord, including everything from aged cheese and alcohol to pickled foods, hot dogs, and chocolate. When it comes to the most commonly reported food triggers, the American Migraine Foundation says alcohol tops the list at 33%, followed by chocolate .
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Why Is Coffee Giving Me A Headache
Caffeine can trigger a headache. And because caffeine narrows the blood vessels that surround the brain, when consumption is stopped, the blood vessels enlarge. This causes an increase in blood flow around the brain and pressures surrounding nerves. This can then trigger what is known as a caffeine withdrawal headache.
So Is Caffeine Good Or Bad For Headaches
It can be either, neither, or both. Its really trial and error, Dr. Martin says. Some people do better with caffeine, and some people do much better without it.
Either way, he says, limiting your caffeine to around 200 mg a day, which is around 2 cups a day max, is smart if youre headache prone. Its also better, he says, to not slug it all at once, because having a big ol mug in the morning can sometimes lead to caffeine withdrawal headaches at night. Its best to spread it out throughout the day, but not after 5 or too close to bedtime, he adds.
Of course, whittling your caffeine intake down to 200 mg a day or weaning off of it altogether if you think its triggering headaches, can mean caffeine withdrawal in the short termand more headaches.
Thats why youll want to go slow, says Dr. Martin. If you drink four coffees a day, go down to three for a week, and then to two for a week, and see if your headaches lessen. If you want to try life without caffeine altogether, taper off to zero. But give it a fair shot, he says. It may take three to four weeks to see the full effects of no caffeine. Around 70% Dr. Martins patients see a big difference in headaches when they ditch the stimulant completely, he says.
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Withdrawal Headache Or Something Else
People often describe caffeine withdrawal headaches as a widespread, throbbing head pain. The International Headache Society defines a caffeine withdrawal headache as a headache that:
- develops within 24 hours after last consuming caffeine in people who consume at least 200 milligrams per day of caffeine for more than 2 weeks
- goes away after 7 consecutive days of not consuming caffeine
- improves within 1 hour of consuming 100 mg of caffeine
Doctors may also diagnose someone with a caffeine withdrawal headache if their symptoms do not match those of other types of headache.
How Much Caffeine You Should Consume To Relieve Headaches
Overall, Stephens says its important to consume caffeine in moderation. That way, you can stave off any potential episodes of withdrawal.
The right amount is under 400 mg of caffeine per day, says Stephens. Thats around two to four cups of coffee, depending on how long its brewed for, as well as how strong the coffee youre drinking is.
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Is Decaf Coffee Ok
The USDA requires that at least 97.5% of caffeine be removed from coffee in order for it to be labeled as decaffeinated. So the starting potency of coffee is very relevant to the potency of decaf. University of Florida researchers have measured up to 6.9 mg caffeine per 8 ounces of Starbucks brewed decaffeinated coffee, and up to 15.8 mg caffeine per 1 oz shot of Starbucks decaffeinated espresso.
Studies of caffeine dependency and tolerance have shown that daily caffeine users are actually more motivated to consume it to avoid withdrawal symptoms, than to experience the lift that its stimulant properties may provide. Caffeine’s combination of a punishing syndrome of withdrawal, along with a rewarding sense of wakefulness, has made coffee, tea, and chocolate some of humanity’s best loved foods. One might say that caffeine-producing plants have succeeded in motivating humans to cultivate them widely and with very great care.
It is important to emphasize that caffeine consumption is rarely the sole “cause” of frequent headaches including migraine. However, it is a modifiable risk factor, unlike many other unavoidable migraine triggers, that is often a significant and overlooked contributor to the problem. The moderation or elimination of caffeine use should be one component of a successful program of therapies for migraine sufferers â and it requires no prescription.
The Perks Of Caffeine
Caffeine can be a friend to some people living with migraine and a foe to others, says Kylie Petrarca, a registered nurse with the Association of Migraine Disorders in North Kingstown, RI. During a migraine, blood vessels swell, causing an increase in blood flow around the nerves in your head and neck, which in turn send pain messages to your brain. Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties, meaning it causes blood vessels to narrow and restrict blood flow, alleviating the head pain.
Here Are A Few Ginger Tea Options:
- Ginger tea bags: The simplest way to enjoy ginger tea. Choose a brand known for high-quality herbal teas and brew yourself a cuppa.
- Fresh ginger root tea: You simply boil peeled and sliced fresh ginger in water for about five minutes. Go a few extra minutes for more spice. Add honey or maple syrup to taste .
- Black tea with ginger: Brew tea to your liking and add fresh ginger grated with a microplane.
- Iced ginger tea: Brew black or herbal tea and add sliced fresh ginger. Let cool and transfer to a glass pitcher for storage in the refrigerator.
Drinking This Much Coffee May Trigger Migraines
Three or more caffeinated drinks a day is linked with migraines.
Drinking too much coffee or other caffeinated drinks may be a trigger for migraines among people prone to these severe headaches, a new study suggests.
The study researchers found that, among people with periodic migraine headaches, consuming at least three caffeinated drinks a day was tied to a higher likelihood of experiencing a migraine on that day or the following day. However, consuming only one or two caffeinated drinks a day was generally not associated with migraines, the study found.
Although many people anecdotally report that caffeine tends to trigger their migraines, few rigorous studies have examined this link. Indeed, the new study, published today in The American Journal of Medicine, is one of the first to examine whether daily changes in caffeine intake are tied to the onset of migraines.
“Interestingly, despite some patients with episodic migraine thinking they need to avoid caffeine, we found that drinking one to two servings day was not associated with higher risk of headache,” study senior author Dr. Suzanne Bertisch, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a clinical investigator in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said in a statement. Still, more research is needed to confirm the findings “but it is an important first step,” Bertisch said.
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What Drink Helps Headaches
Keep reading to see 12 of the best drinks for headaches and migraine attacks.Decaffeinated coffee. While too much caffeine may trigger migraine attacks in some people, it can be challenging to give up your daily cup of coffee. Green tea. Feverfew tea. Peppermint tea. Ginger tea. Green smoothies. Water. Fruit-infused water.More itemsMar 2, 2021
Keep In Mind That Coffee Has Side Effects
Of course, you would also have to deal with the side effects of coffee, which include trouble sleeping, nervousness, upset stomach, anxiety, headache, etc. It is also known to relax the esophageal sphincter, which can cause gastrointestinal reflux , which can cause heartburn and asthma.
As a twist here, it was due to these side effects that my doctor and I decided to wean me off of theophylline in 2007. It was a very slow wean, as theophylline, like coffee, is highly addicting. I did not realize it at the time, but only after I was weaned off theophylline did I start drinking coffee. I was aware that caffeine and theophylline were sisters, but I was unaware that caffeine was metabolized into theophylline.
So, while I thought I had been weaned off theophylline, I was, in effect, consuming a small dose every day in my coffee. So, as I was consuming between 600-800 mg of coffee every day, I was pretty much having to deal with the same side effects I was dealing with when on theophylline.
This was effectively why I decided to quit drinking coffee.
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What Fruit Can Cure Headache
Grapefruit. Like oranges, limes and lemons, grapefruit is a water-packed citrus fruit that soothes a headache by delivering healthy hydration to the brain and body. Grapefruit also contains a small amount of magnesium, another headache helper, as well as vitamin C to keep away colds and therefore, sinus headaches.
How Do You Relax The Muscles In Your Head
Massage can undo clenched muscles and help you relax, so it can be especially good for stress or tension headaches. Have someone else gently massage your head, neck, and shoulder muscles. Or do it yourself with a targeted mini-massage. Gently rub the painful spot on your head with your fingertips for several seconds.
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Weather Changes Can Create A Perfect Storm That Triggers Migraine
More than one-third of people with migraine report that weather fluctuations can trigger an attack, according to the American Migraine Foundation.
Barometric pressure headaches can be triggered by changes in the weather. A study published in 2017 in Oral Rehabilitation found an association between atmospheric pressure and the amount of migraine pain a person experienced.
Dehydration caused by hot and humid temperatures or cold, dry air can also bring on a headache, according to the American Migraine Foundation. You cant avoid the weather, but if you know that a big change is coming, you might take care to avoid other migraine or headache triggers.
Understanding The Relationship Between Caffeine And Headaches
Is caffeine helping or hurting your efforts to manage migraine attacks and other types of headaches?
Whether youre gritting your teeth trying to give up your cola habit or drinking a strong cup of tea in hopes of stopping a migraine attack, youre probably well aware that caffeine can have an effect on a headache. However, the connection between the two is not fully understood.
Coffee is one of the most popular sources of caffeine in the American diet, and according to the National Coffee Association, 62 percent of Americans drink coffee every day, with the average coffee drinker consuming just over three cups per day.
Although its easy to become dependent on caffeine, such that stopping it abruptly causes withdrawal symptoms such as headache, its generally considered safe for most people in reasonable quantities.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes that consuming up to 400 milligrams a day is generally safe for healthy adults. For reference, an average 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 80 to 100 mg, and a cola-type soda contains about 30 to 40 mg.
For people with migraine or headaches, the relationship between caffeine and their head pain is a delicate one. On the one hand, caffeine may help ease headaches on the other, if you are trying to give up or cut down on caffeine, you may experience a temporary spate of caffeine withdrawal headaches.
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How Is Caffeine Metabolized In The Body
Caffeine metabolizes in the liver into 3 different metabolites: paraxanthine, theobromine, and theophylline. The half-life of caffeine is approximately 5 hours, but it will vary from person to person depending on their stomach acidity as well as body fat percentage.
Caffeine is also a stimulant and causes the release of adrenaline and dopamine into your system. The caffeine then hits receptors in your brain when it comes in contact with them, prompting nerve cells to send messages to other parts of your body.
These messages could cause an increased heart rate, headaches, or mood swings.
What Are Some Good Caffeine Alternatives To Get The Energy You Need
If drinking coffee is a migraine trigger for you, there are plenty of other ways to get the energy boost that you need.
We polled longtime migraine sufferers to find out their favorite caffeine alternatives:
Fruit and Exercise
After totally detoxing from caffeine due to a correlation with her own migraines, Jenn, 30, finds that a combination of fruit and exercisekeep her naturally energized, perhaps even more so than when she consumed coffee.
Tea, Chocolate, Soda, and Naps
Kelleigh, 32, limits her coffee consumption, but turns to tea and chocolate if she needs to kickstart her productivity at work. Catie, 30, will drink soda from time to time and is a big fan of the power napfor a much-needed energy boost.
When looking for caffeine alternatives, Dr. Crystal says to be mindful of the caffeine content of whatever youâre consuming or ingesting. Green tea is a great option as it contains less caffeine than coffee , while caffeine levels in energy drinks are very high.
âWhen it comes to alternatives for coffee, the caffeine content is the most important factor, but there are other things to consider,â Dr. Crystal says. âFor example, energy drinks contain other ingredients that may be harmful and should be avoided.â
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Catching Triggers In Their Tracks
Is a food responsible for triggering your migraines? Pay attention to how soon after consumption a migraine occurssymptoms tend to come on quickly, even as soon as 30 minutes after eating, says Merle Diamond, M.D., president and medical director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago and spokesperson for the National Headache Foundation. If you eliminate the food for a few weeks and the migraines continue, its likely not the food to blame. Dr. Diamond cautions against being too restrictive with your diets, which can cause more stressanother migraine trigger.
Migraine Headaches: Still Mysterious After All These Years
Migraine headaches are quite common: more than a billion people reportedly suffer from migraines worldwide. Yet, the cause has long been a mystery and it still is.
Until recently, the going theory was that blood vessels around the brain go into spasm, temporarily constricting and limiting blood flow. Then, when the blood vessels open up, the rush of incoming blood flow leads to the actual headache.
That theory has fallen out of favor. Now, the thinking is that migraines are due to waves of electrical activity spreading across the outer portions of the brain, leading to inflammation and overreactive nerve cells that send inappropriate pain signals. Why this begins in the first place is unknown.
Migraines tend to run in families, so genetic factors are likely important. In addition, chemical messengers within the brain, such as serotonin, may also play a central role in the development of migraines, though the mechanisms remain uncertain.
People prone to migraines may experience more headaches after coffee consumption , but coffee itself, or the caffeine it contains, is not considered the actual cause of migraines. Certain foods or drinks like coffee are thought to trigger episodes of migraine, but the true cause is not known.
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Bad News For Coffee Drinkers Who Get Headaches
- The Norwegian University of Science and Technology
- People who consume high amounts of caffeine each day are more likely to suffer occasional headaches than those with low caffeine consumption, researchers in Norway have found. But, oddly enough, low caffeine consumption was associated with a greater likelihood of chronic headaches.
People who consume high amounts of caffeine each day are more likely to suffer occasional headaches than those with low caffeine consumption, a team of researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology reports in a study recently published in the Journal of Headache Pain.
But in findings that had no obvious reason, the researchers, led by Knut Hagen from NTNUs Faculty of Medicine, also reported that low caffeine consumption was associated with a greater likelihood of chronic headaches, defined as headaches for 14 or more days each month.
The results are drawn from a large cross-sectional study of 50,483 people who answered a questionnaire about caffeine consumption and headache prevalence as a part of the Nord-Trøndelag Health Survey , a county-wide health survey conducted in 1995-1997 on a wide range of health topics.
To drink or not to drink
Caffeine is the worlds most commonly consumed stimulant, and has long been known to have both positive and negative effects on headaches. For example, caffeine is a common ingredient in headache analgesics because it can help relieve headaches.
Cutting back may help