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Have you ever skipped your morning coffee and been met with miserable head pain?
Despite caffeine being such a popular ingredient in common migraine medications and treatments, the information can certainly feel ironic. Can caffeine for migraine be helpful or can too much caffeine cause a migraine?
This is a topic I’ve been curious about for the longest time and I was excited to finally have the chance to explore and comprehend as much information as possible for someone without a background in medicine!
Caffeine and Our Body
Caffeine can have many different impacts on our body. The short-term effects of caffeine are between five and thirty minutes after consumption since the body quickly absorbs it. Long term effects vary from person to person, depending on individual sensitivity and regular consumption. This is why the effect of caffeine can last up to 12 hours for some and fewer hours for some.
Caffeine elevates our energy and emotions, which then ups our alertness. As a stimulant, caffeine can wake us up and make heart beat faster. This is why if you consume too much caffeine, your pulse may increase excessively or remain elevated for an extended period – commonly known as the coffee jitters. I’ve DEFINITELY been guilty of this. Caffeine is generally harmless to your heart. Luckily there is no proof that it will raise your blood pressure or lead to potentially fatal cardiac rhythm irregularities known as arrhythmias.
If you’ve noticed, caffeine can also make us pee more. This is because it is a diuretic. However if you consume the same amount of caffeine regularly and build up a tolerance, this will make the diuretic effect decrease.
If you participate in endurance sports such as running, riding, or swimming – caffeine can make the activity easier and less painful for you. This is why you may notice it as an ingredient in different workout and performance supplements. The body may be able to use fat as its primary fuel source if caffeine helps mobilize fat storage. Caffeine helps mobilize fat storage, turning it into more fuel for exercise.
How Does Caffeine Cause Head Pain?
Coffee and other caffeinated beverages cause the blood vessels in the brain to constrict when consumed. These vessels enlarge after the effect of the caffeine wears off. This causes an increase in blood flow and may result in a headache.
When you stop consuming caffeine, you may experience withdrawal since your body has grown accustomed to its effects. You can sometimes get these headaches from consuming too much coffee or not consuming your typical caffeine dosage. Caffeine headaches hurt and are bothersome. Additionally, there are amusing side effects like weariness or brain fog.
How Much Is Too Much Caffeine?
It is quite surprising when you look at all the different levels of caffeine found in common drinks from coffee to soda to tea. Below is just a screen shot of common beverages. The average American consumes about 200mg of caffeine but it is recommended to not go over 400mg. I would be incredibly curious to know what the average caffeine intake is on a college campus.
If you love coffee but are looking to cut down your caffeine intake like me, there are some fantastic work arounds. My favorite drinks include a cappuccino (iced or hot) with decaf espresso, decaf instant coffee, and decaf iced black tea with lemonade!
Additionally, Alicia also known as The Dizzy Cook, has a fantastic post on her favorite coffee alternatives below!
Caffeine and Migraine
Caffeine and migraine disease have been linked for a long time.
When used infrequently, caffeine may provide minor acute headache relief and its usual pleasurable sense of alertness and well-being. While caffeine can be used to treat a migraine attack, too much can worsen the disease. A dependence on caffeine occurs when it is consumed regularly, so regardless if you drink coffee everyday or not, if caffeine is present in medications you take on a regular basis – a dependency will still form.
In my earlier days of combatting my migraine disease, Excedrin (which includes caffeine) was my only weapon. The problem is, I developed a steep dependence on the medicine, to the point that it no longer was helpful. When I would stop taking Excedrin or after the migraine attack subsided, I was met with another attack the next day brought on by the rebound vasodilation. One of my favorite books, Heal Your Headache, does an excellent job of explaining this in full!
Head pain during a migraine attack is brought on because the blood vessels around our head become inflamed and swollen. Caffeine can serve as a rescue method, because it temporarily constricts our blood vessels, which alleviates the head pain. The key word here however is temporary. Once the effect of caffeine wears off, not only is there nothing to continue constricting our blood vessels but our blood vessels are more likely to become swollen and inflamed again. A truly exhausting cycle.
Can Too Much Caffeine Cause A Migraine?
Have you ever heard that having a cup of fresh coffee can help prevent a migraine attack? While there is some truth to this, the problem is, not only is this not a permanent solution to managing migraine but can also act as a migraine trigger.
A recent study explained, “Caffeine may act as a trigger in two possible ways: drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages may start a migraine attack, and caffeine withdrawal is an even more frequent migraine trigger. The prevalence of coffee as a migraine trigger in the reported literature ranges from 6.3% to 14.5%.” Due to individual sensitivities to caffeine can be a predictor to whether someone dealing with migraine should be consuming caffeine or not.
Folks with migraine should limit their caffeine intake to no more than 200 mg per day (or even less). If you want to keep drinking caffeinated beverages, it’s best to keep daily intake as stable as possible to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
What is most important is to be mindful and monitor your caffeine intake. For someone like me that deals with anxiety and panic disorder in addition to migraine, I have to be careful to cut myself off seeing as though caffeine can exacerbate my anxiety too.
For me, consuming coffee can sometimes lead to another migraine trigger – skipping meals. Another eventful link between caffeine and migraine. This is because caffeine can suppress your appetite. If I have coffee on an empty stomach (which is already bad due to the acidity of coffee), it can also keep me full for hours forgetting or feeling the need to eat. Skipping meals, not eating early enough, or getting the right nutrients is a migraine dumpster fire waiting to happen. Will have to break down in my next post why skipping meals is so detrimental to those dealing with migraine.