Migraines and Caffeine: Good or Bad?


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As a chronic sufferer of migraines, I have always heard both sides of the story concerning whether or not caffeine is beneficial to migraines. So, I decided to find out the correct answer. As it turns out, though, caffeine can actually be as beneficial as harmful to those who suffer from migraines. 

According to an article on the American Headache Society's website, caffeine can actually be a great form of medicine to relieve migraine pain and symptoms. Caffeine is even found in numerous headache medications, such as Excedrin, Midol and Anacin. However, it is important to remember that in order for these medicines to work properly you must not be a daily user of caffeinated products. If you are not a daily user, then a cup of coffee may actually help relieve a migraine. This is possible because of a chemical in the brain known as adenosine. Adenosine levels in the brain typically rise during a migraine attack and can effect one's electrical brain activity, sleep and movement actions and can also temporarily increase the size of blood vessels in the brain. Caffeine can help counteract the rise of the adenosine levels by attaching  to the adenosine receptors and blocking them from causing more issues. This action from the caffeine can help further prevent the onset of a migraine. 

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The same article, however, also explained why caffeine can be harmful to those who experience migraines. Caffeine becomes harmful when  you begin to obtain a dependency for it. This can occur in as little as seven consistent days of caffeine exposure. The migraines occur from the caffeine when you withdrawal from it for as little as 24 hours. These migraines are typically known as "weekend headaches" since they are known to occur on the weekends when you are able to sleep in and wait for your morning cup of coffee. Withdrawal from cafeine can cause increased blood vessels which in return increases the blood flow in the brain. This increased blood flow causes a change in the adenosine receptors and they trigger migraine issues. 

In my opinion, I would rather suffer from a headache in which it is not caused by a withdrawal from caffeine. This way I can have my cup of coffee and feel better in time. I have experienced this before and I always thought it to be odd since I was always taught migraines were due to caffeine. I believe, however, that I have suffered from both types of caffeine related migraines. Have you ever suffered from a migraine due to caffeine withdrawal or has caffeine ever helped your migraine pain? 

Works Cited:
Caffeine and Migraines, ACHE MD Education Center, Robert E. Sharpiro

3 Comments

While reading your blog posts, I was reminded of my parents. When I was younger, we used to observe the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (a holiday in which we do not eat or drink all day). I remember after only a few hours into the day, my dad would complain about a serious "caffeine headache." I never really knew what he meant, as when I was younger I did not drink caffeine regularly at all. My dad, however, drank a cup of coffee every morning, as well as a soda at night. For the past 3 years, my dad has not drank coffee or soda on a regular basis. I now realize that on Yom Kippur, he does not complain at all anymore of a "caffeine headache." I have never thought of the connection!

I find it very interesting that caffeine can cause a headache if consumed regularly, but can help a headache if not. This article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090501162805.htm discusses a double-blind study which involved the administration of caffeine and placebo capsules. I won't go into detail on this comment (as it is thoroughly explained in the article), but essentially it found the exact phenomenon that you described in your post: "Stopping daily caffeine consumption produces changes in cerebral blood flow velocity that are likely related to the classic caffeine withdrawal symptoms of headache, drowsiness and decreased alertness."

This article also discusses an interesting result of the study: there are no benefits associated with chronic caffeine administration. The study showed no difference between when the participant was maintained on chronic placebo and when the participant was on chronic caffeine administration. What this means is that consuming caffeine regularly does not appear to produce any beneficial effects, based on the measures (brain electrical activity via electroencephalogram (EEG); blood flow velocity in the brain via ultrasound; and participants' self-reports of subjective effects via questionnaires) that were examined. Therefore, caffeine not only causes headaches after stopping regular consumption, but provides no benefits when consuming it regularly!

As a migraine sufferer, I am always on the lookout for new theories about anything that could help lessen the pain. Unfortunately, there are so many conflicting theories that I often get frustrated and feel as if nothing will ever help. The theories about caffeine have always caused frustration because they are never consistent with one another. In this article from livestrong.com, (http://www.livestrong.com/article/455402-does-caffeine-cause-migraines/) it is suggested that caffeine can be a trigger for migraines for some and can also be used as a treatment. That being said, I am hesitant to believe any theory about the effects of caffeine on migraines. The headaches do not have one specific cause so how could they have a specific cure? It's definitely something to think about.

As a migraine sufferer, I am always on the lookout for new theories about anything that could help lessen the pain. Unfortunately, there are so many conflicting theories that I often get frustrated and feel as if nothing will ever help. The theories about caffeine have always caused frustration because they are never consistent with one another. In this article from livestrong.com, (http://www.livestrong.com/article/455402-does-caffeine-cause-migraines/) it is suggested that caffeine can be a trigger for migraines for some and can also be used as a treatment. That being said, I am hesitant to believe any theory about the effects of caffeine on migraines. The headaches do not have one specific cause so how could they have a specific cure? It's definitely something to think about.

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