Does Coffee Help Migraines? (Or Can They Trigger It?)

World Health Organization (WHO) has identified migraine as the third most common disease worldwide, with over a billion people suffering from it. 

Almost 85% of Americans consume caffeine daily, and most of the caffeine they consume comes from coffee.  

Do you think there is a link between your cup of coffee and the episodes of migraine you experience? Does coffee sometimes help you reduce headache pain?

Coffee has been linked with migraines for many years. You should know that coffee is not the real culprit behind headaches and migraines, but the caffeine in coffee is. Coffee and other food containing caffeine can also help or cause migraines, depending on the dosage.

Too much caffeine consumption or caffeine withdrawal can trigger migraines. On the other hand, caffeine is an active ingredient used in many medical and drugs to treat acute migraines. 

The caffeine in coffee can help prevent and treat migraines. It can also be one of the triggers behind migraines. However, studies have found that different factors affect different people who consume coffee. 

Read on to find out how personal migraine triggers can be and how you can treat them.

Caffeine and Migraines

The effect of caffeine on blood flow and arteries remains uncertain.  Nevertheless, higher intake of caffeine may influence:

  • Headache 
  • Insomnia
  • Drowsiness
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Nausea 
  • Tremor
  • Tachycardia
  • Blood pressure
cup of coffee and a glass of water

Here are few essential things you need to know about caffeine and migraine:

  1. Single-dose caffeine doesn’t trigger a migraine.
  2. Caffeine overuse can lead to migraine chronification.
  3. Caffeine cessation can trigger migraine attacks.
  4. For those who experience migraines, taking caffeine three to four days per week can increase dependency and lead to frequent intense migraines.
  5. Caffeine drugs are effective for migraines but need to be taken in a limited amount.
  6. Those who suffer from migraines should not take more than 200mg of caffeine daily.

People who experience frequent headache or migraine episodes should need to avoid caffeine until their condition improve.

Does Coffee Cause Migraines?

Too much coffee that contains caffeine can cause migraines. Caffeine affects the activity of a natural substance of the brain called adenosine. When someone experiences a migraine, the adenosine level in the blood goes up. Similarly, injecting adenosine in veins can trigger migraines.

Studies didn’t find an active mechanism behind the effects of caffeine on the brain, but they have identified the target of caffeine in the brain and different nerves outside the brain.

Adenosine is present in the brain in large amounts and acts by sticking to receptor molecules on the surface of your brain. It provides many health benefits:

  • Reduce brain electrical activity
  • Wide the blood vessels temporarily
  • Control some sleep and movement aspects

When you consume too much caffeine, it blocks the action of these receptors and affects the activity of adenosine. However, no evidence shows this action of caffeine on adenosine can cause acute migraine attacks. 

How Caffeine Triggers Migraines:

Caffeine can trigger migraines through:

  1. Dehydration – If you increase your coffee intake but do not increase your water intake, caffeine in coffee can cause dehydration, leading to a headache.
  2. Caffeine Withdrawal – Studies show that headaches are sometimes symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. If you drink too much caffeine daily, your brain can adapt to this routine and lead to dependency. When you decrease daily intake or cut of complete, it can cause withdrawal symptoms.

Caffeine reduces the amount of blood flow in your brain by narrowing blood vessels. Caffeine withdrawal can enlarge the blood vessels then increase blood flow in the brain that triggers a migraine.

Can Coffee Treat Migraines?

Caffeine can treat migraines, especially if your migraine was caused by caffeine withdrawal. But even with a regular headache, caffeine, at least in moderation, can help alleviate the pain by constricting blood flow.

During a headache, an increase in blood flow occurs which ends up swelling blood vessels. This causes pressure among nearby nerves which then sends pain signals to the brain. With caffeine being a vasoconstrictor, it narrows the blood vessels, restricting the blood flow, and thus helping with the headache.

Caffeine is also found in several medicines used for headaches, such as Anacin, Excedrin, Darvon Compound, and Midol as its presence helps make the medicine more effective. 

Studies also show that caffeine is connected with a decreased risk of many diseases, including:

  • Cancer 
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Parkinson′s disease 

Overall, the study concludes that a moderate amount of coffee can be part of a healthy diet, so long as it isn’t abused.

People who develop chronic daily headaches (CDH) are preferred to use caffeine daily to subside withdrawal symptoms. Where studies point at genetics role in migraine, scientists can find that if the inherited tendency of migraine relates directly to genetics. 

Similarly, people who consume 100mg caffeine daily are three times more prone to developing CDH than those who consume less.

How Does Coffee Help a Migraine Headache?

Coffee helps with a migraine headache through the stimulant caffeine. The caffeine in coffee acts as a “vasoconstrictor” which narrows the blood vessels. Migraine is caused when blood vessels enlarge around your brain, increasing blood flow to your brain. Caffeine constricts these vessels and reduces blood flow which ultimately helps cure migraines.

Study shows caffeine decrease cerebral blood flow ( blood supply to the brain) by 27%. 

Another study was conducted by the Journal of Headache and Pain on migraine patients. And results show that caffeine works faster and more effectively than most drugs and pain relief medications for headaches.

The exciting thing is that studies have mixed and conflicting findings of the link between caffeine and migraines.

A study published by the Journal of Headache Pain recommends that people experiencing migraine relieve their pain with a medication called triptans when they completely cut of caffeine from their daily food intake.

How Much Caffeine is Too Much Caffeine?

cups of coffee arranged on a circular platform

The recommended daily caffeine limit let by the FDA is 400mg, any number above that is too much caffeine.

Caffeine in moderate amounts around 200 mg daily can cure headaches, plus create alertness. Make sure to not over-consume caffeine. Daily consumption can develop tolerance. Hence the drug becomes less effective. 

American Migraine Foundation suggests the following on whether caffeine helps migraine or cause it, depending on how often you take it:

  • The recommended amount for people who consume coffee daily is 300 to 400 mg, and those who don’t take it daily should keep the intake around 100 mg whenever they wish to drink coffee.  
  • Suppose you are someone who suffers from 14 episodes of headache per month, you should take caffeine in the limited amount of 200 mg to cure the migraine.
  • According to National Headache Foundation, if you experience migraines daily, you need to avoid caffeine altogether.

The wise thing to do is to consume it in moderation to avoid the potential withdrawal episodes

Check out the table below to know the amount of caffeine in your cup of happiness.

Beverage (1 Cup )Caffeine (mg)
Instant, Regular Coffee47-68 mg
Espresso (1 oz, cup)30- 50 mg
Drip Coffee106-164 mg
Green Tea (5 oz. cup)8-36 mg
Instant Tea22-36mg
Milk Chocolate (1oz.)6 mg
Coca-Cola (12 oz.)46 mg
Amount of caffeine in different beverages

Is Coffee Bad for People Who Suffer from Migraines?

Coffee is not necessarily bad for people who suffer from migraines. In fact, it can sometimes even act as a cure. So long as the intake is in moderation and the caffeine is within the recommended limit, coffee probably won’t have any negative effects on people who suffer from migraines.

  1. Migraine patients should be aware of how much caffeine they take every day. Caffeine not only in coffee they consume but all caffeinated food and drinks, tea, drink medication.
  2. Daily intake should not exceed more than 200mg that makes two cups of coffee daily.
  3. Migraine patients should consume caffiene daily at a consistent time and should not cut off during the weekend. Cutting caffeine on weekends or sleeping too long can trigger withdrawal headaches.
  4. Analgesic is an effective and safe treatment for migraines. Analgesics contain caffeine and should take only two days per week. 

All that said, if the migraine is incredibly strong and you’ve been experiencing it consistently over the past few weeks, the best thing to do is go to a health professional and ask for their advice. Even if you’re just beginning to experience it, consulting a health professional is still advisable.

To understand more about coffee and migraines, here’s a video you can watch:

Final Thoughts

In summary, the caffeine in coffee can help with migraines, but it can also lead to overused medication or rebound headaches. Migraine patients should limit their consumption of drugs containing caffeine to cure their migraines. 

Based on the studies, there is no direct evidence to show that consuming a moderate amount of caffeine is a migraine trigger.

Suppose you are adapt to coffee and can’t cut off caffeine from your daily life, and you wish to continue drinking caffeinated coffee. In that case, you should keep your daily intake as consistent as possible to avoid withdrawal headaches.

Until we discover more studies proving caffeine’s effects on the brain, we should listen to our bodies. Suppose taking too much caffeine causes you a headache, then limiting the amount of intake should help. And if you are someone who doesn’t consume caffeine daily, you should start taking it in moderation if you are experiencing any migraine episodes.

Keep track of your progress, drink a lot of water, and take a nutrient diet along with your daily caffeine intake.  

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Matt Marshall

As I learn more and more about coffee and coffee products I want to share all my learnings with you here on this website. I hope you find my articles useful and entertaining to read.

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