The Effects Of Caffeine On Your Body
Many of us rely on a morning cup of coffee or a jolt of caffeine in the afternoon to help us get through the day. Caffeine is so widely available that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration , says about 80 percent of U.S. adults take some form of caffeine every day. But caffeine does so much more than just keeping you awake. Its a central nervous system stimulant that affects your body in numerous ways.
Knowing the symptoms of caffeine and its long-term effects on your body may make you think twice about having that fourth cup of coffee. Read on to learn more about these effects.
Caffeine provides no nutritional value on its own. Its tasteless, so you wont necessarily know if its in your food either. Even some medications may contain caffeine without your knowledge.
This ingredient almost always causes some symptoms. At a minimum, you may feel more energetic, but over time, too much caffeine may cause withdrawal symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, its safe for most healthy adults to consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day. Keep in mind that a standard size cup of coffee is eight ounces. If youre using a mug or getting your fix at a coffee house, chances are youre drinking 16 ounces or more, so reading labels is important.
A New Study About Coffee And Migraines: How Much Is Too Much
In a new study published in the American Journal of Medicine, researchers asked 98 people with migraines to keep a diet diary that included how often they consumed caffeinated beverages . This information was compared with how often they had migraines. Heres what they found:
- The odds of having a migraine increased for those drinking three or more caffeinated beverages per day, but not for those consuming one to two servings per day the effect lasted through the day after caffeine consumption.
- It seemed to take less caffeine to trigger a headache in those who didnt usually have much of it. Just one or two servings increased the risk of migraine in those who usually had less than one serving per day.
- The link between caffeine consumption and migraine held up even after accounting for other relevant factors such as alcohol consumption, sleep, and physical activity.
Interestingly, the link was observed regardless of whether the study subject believed that caffeine triggered their headaches.
How Much Caffeine You Should Consume To Relieve Headaches
Overall, Stephens says it’s 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. That’s around two to four cups of coffee, depending on how long it’s brewed for, as well as how strong the coffee you’re drinking is.
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It Can Spike Blood Sugar
Coffee drinkers seem to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But if you already have the disease, you may want to be careful with caffeine. Studies show caffeine drives up blood sugar levels and impairs insulin sensitivity, frustrating efforts to keep diabetes under control.
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center, who studied the effects of giving caffeine capsules to people with type 2 diabetes, suspect that caffeine may interfere with sugar metabolism or trigger the release of adrenaline , which is known to boost blood sugar.
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Study: Excess Caffeine Intake Is A Migraine Trigger
In a study in The American Journal of Medicine, 98 participants with episodic migraine completed an electronic diary each morning and evening for six weeks.
Within the diary, the participants reported their caffeinated beverage intake, as well as their migraine characteristics and other lifestyle factors .
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What You Can Do
Be aware of how caffeine affects you, and pay attention to how much of it you drink and eat. If you get migraines, or if you find yourself having headaches frequently, you may want to try to cut down on caffeine or avoid it completely. Itâs best to do that gradually. For example, if you normally have 2 cups of coffee in the morning, start by cutting back to one. If you quit suddenly, it can take up to a week to get past the withdrawal symptoms.
Keep track of your headaches and what seems to help. Get good sleep, and drink plenty of water. A nutritious diet and daily exercise can also help. Try to manage stress. You might be able to beat a headache with relaxation techniques, meditation, or massage instead of using medicine or caffeine.
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Silverman, K. New England Journal of Medicine, October 1992.
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Cleveland Clinic: âRebound Headaches.â
Cupini, L. Journal of Headache and Pain, 2005.
It Can Tamp Down Painor Trigger It
Caffeine helps ease migraine and tension headaches by constricting swollen blood vessels in the brain. Thats why some prescription and over-the-counter pain relievers add caffeine to the mix. Studies suggest it can boost the effectiveness of these medicines by up to 40%.
But, if you overuse caffeinated painkillers, you can get rebound headaches from stopping the medication. Without those meds, blood vessels expand again, leading to pain. If you have a regular caffeine habit, quitting cold turkey can give you a throbbing headache due to caffeine withdrawal.
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Caffeine As A Headache Treatment
Caffeine seems to be an effective acute treatment for migraine, or at least a component for the acute treatment of migraine from a patient perspective, says Roderick Spears, MD, a neurologist and headache specialist at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia.
Patients often report that if they can have a caffeinated beverage combined with a medication, its usually helpful during an attack, Dr. Spears says.
There are also medications to treat headache and migraine both over-the-counter and prescription that contain caffeine and can be helpful for some patients when they are having a migraine attack, says Spears.
Similarly the drug Cafergot, available by prescription, contains ergotamine and caffeine. Each tablet contains 100 mg of caffeine, and the recommended dose is to take two tablets as soon as you notice a migraine attack starting and one additional tablet every 30 minutes up to a total of six tablets per 24 hours if symptoms continue.
The mechanism of action behind caffeines pain-relieving potential is related to the blood vessels, says Spears.
We know that blood vessels dilate with migraine, and caffeine is thought to be beneficial because it causes vasoconstriction. Thats what people are addressing when they consume a caffeinated beverage or a medication that contains caffeine when they have a migraine, he says.
Caffeine Can Also Trigger Headaches
Drinking lots of caffeine won’t help relieve a headache. For example, if you increase your caffeine intake, but don’t increase how much water you’re drinking, caffeine can trigger a headache indirectly by causing you to become more dehydrated.
However, you’re more likely to get a headache from caffeine if you simply drink too much of it too often, because this can lead to dependence.
If you suddenly stop or reduce your caffeine intake after consuming it regularly typically more than 200 mg per day for more than 2 weeks you may feel the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. According to the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , headaches are the main symptom of caffeine withdrawal.
Caffeine narrows the blood vessels around your brain, so once you stop consuming it regularly, they expand. This causes a significant increase in blood flow to the brain, and that’s what can lead to migraine headaches.
“If you want to get off caffeine, don’t abruptly stop. Taper your intake gradually over a few days. This can help minimize the intense withdrawal headache,” says Stephens.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, it’s possible to avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms by tapering down your intake to as little as 25 mg of caffeine a day.
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To Drink Coffee Or Not To Drink Coffee
Quitting coffee cold turkey isnât necessarily the answer since caffeine affects everyone differently, but having a few alternatives can certainly help you avoid dependency or suffer from a rebound headache. Use a migraine tracking app or journal to carefully monitor your caffeine intake and find the right levels for youâso you can live your best, headache-free life.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Theories About Migraine Pain
Older theories about migraines suggested that symptoms were possibly due to fluctuations in blood flow to the brain. Now many headache researchers realize that changes in blood flow and blood vessels don’t initiate the pain, but may contribute to it.
Current thinking regarding migraine pain has moved more toward the source of the problem, as improved technology and research have paved the way for a better understanding. Today, it is widely understood that chemical compounds and hormones, such as serotonin and estrogen, often play a role in pain sensitivity for migraine sufferers.
One aspect of migraine pain theory explains that migraine pain happens due to waves of activity by groups of excitable brain cells. These trigger chemicals, such as serotonin, to narrow blood vessels. Serotonin is a chemical necessary for communication between nerve cells. It can cause narrowing of blood vessels throughout the body.
When serotonin or estrogen levels change, the result for some is a migraine. Serotonin levels may affect both sexes, while fluctuating estrogen levels affect women only.
For women, estrogen levels naturally vary over the life cycle, with increases during fertile years and decreases afterwards. Women of childbearing age also experience monthly changes in estrogen levels. Migraines in women are often associated with these fluctuating hormone levels and may explain why women are more likely to have migraines than men.
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Caffeine And Eyelid Twitching
Patients will often express concerns to me about their eye twitching. Technically, it is not an eye problem. It is the thin, fragile eyelid muscles that are twitching.
Myokymia is the involuntary misfiring of the nerves that innervate the delicate eyelid muscles. An individual can have bouts of eyelid twitching over days or months. The causes are largely unknown.
It is usually due to one or more factors of diet, stress, or fatigue:
- extreme physical exertion and fatigue,
- lack of sleep.
Common myokymia does not affect vision. It is more of an annoyance than a problem.
Consider, however, if other facial muscles or the deeper eye muscles that control eye movements are involved, a medical evaluation is warranted to rule out more serious nerve disease.
There is no treatment for eyelid twitching. Do consider your dietary intake of caffeine, alcohol, and/or tobacco smoking. Evaluate ways to reduce your level of stress and get more rest.
But When Does Caffeine Help A Migraine
Caffeine is what Dr. Crystal calls a âdouble-edged sword,â because while it can trigger headaches, itâs also an active ingredient in some migraine relief medications.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, caffeine affects the activity of adenosine, a naturally occuring and necessary brain substance. During migraine attacks, adenosine levels in the blood rise. Caffeine can block specific brain cell receptors adenosine typically bind to, stopping its effects. Caffeine also has vasoconstrictive properties that can restrict blood flow. Since blood vessels vasodilate, or get larger, before a migraine attack, caffeine can help counterbalance that effect, thus decreasing pain.
âCaffeine helps relieve headaches by its own analgesic, or alleviating, effects, and by enhancing the analgesic effects of aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen,â Dr. Crystal says.
Thereâs still much research to be done to determine exactly how caffeine results in acute anti-migraine and pain control, but the evidence is there: A 2017 study published by The Journal of Headache and Pain found that combining caffeine over-the-counter pain relief medications significantly improved relief compared to using the medication alone. And while treating headaches with non-medical options is sometimes effective, The American Migraine Foundation recommends limiting this to two days a week.
Dr William B Young Advises:
That’s a question with a complicated answer. The key to whether caffeine is harmful or beneficial depends on how much you ingest.
We know that caffeine can help migraines. Some people find that a cup of coffee or tea helps relieve an occasional or . Caffeine is also used as an ingredient in many commonly used prescription and over-the-counter headache medications.
However, caffeine can also cause headaches. An important study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine about ten years ago, found that people who drank more than one cup of coffee a day were at risk for getting a withdrawal headache if they went without it. This is why people who drink coffee at work on weekdays may develop headaches on the weekends
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Also, people who get occasional headaches or migraines and drink more than two cups per day of caffeinated beverages -or who take a lot of medication that contains caffeine – are at risk for developing daily headaches. If you fall into this group, you should gradually cut down on your caffeine intake until it is eliminated. Then you usually will go back to getting only occasional headaches. But you must cut down on the caffeine very gradually or your headaches may worsen.
How Caffeine May Help Headaches
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How Caffeine Consumption Affects Headaches
We metabolize caffeine at different rates so theres no hard and fast rule on how much caffeine one can consume before experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Your bodyweight also affects how much caffeine is safe the heavier a person is, the more caffeine they can consume without negative effects.
For most healthy adults, an intake of 300-400 mg of caffeine a day is found to be safe in general, which is equivalent to four cups of brewed coffee. However, for some people who are sensitive or allergic to caffeine, even just a small amount can trigger reactions such as headaches.
Be mindful about the various sources of caffeine, such as black tea, green tea, chocolate, some soda, and certain OTC medications, which can add to your daily caffeine and calorie intake.
Prospective Study Looks At The Complex Relationship Between Caffeine And Headaches
Three or more servings of caffeinated beverages a day were tied to the onset of a headache that day or the following day, a prospective study of episodic migraine patients showed.
One to two servings were not associated with same-day headache, but three or more were linked to higher odds of a headache that day or the next, even after accounting for alcohol, stress, sleep, physical activity, and menstruation, reported Elizabeth Mostofsky, ScD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, and co-authors, in the American Journal of Medicine.
“There’s been a lot of anecdotal evidence about the effect of caffeine on the risk of migraine,” Mostofsky told MedPage Today. “Some people believe that it causes their migraine, where other people believe that caffeine is how they treat their migraine.”
Caffeine’s effect depends on dose and frequency, and few prospective studies have looked at the immediate risk of migraine after caffeinated beverage intake, she added.
The study tracked 98 patients, mostly women, who had episodic migraines on 2 to 15 days a month. They completed Internet-based diaries each morning and evening for at least 6 weeks, reporting how many caffeinated coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks they had.
A key thing to remember is that caffeine doses vary widely in drinks, noted Mia Minen, MD, MPH, of NYU Langone Health in New York City, who was not involved with the study.
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