More than 3 cups of coffee per day can induce migraine

Henrietta Strickland
August 9, 2019

A new study suggests that upping your caffeine intake throughout the day may trigger a migraine, especially if you're already prone to headaches.

"Based on our study, drinking one or two caffeinated beverages in a day does not appear to be linked to developing a migraine headache, however, three or more servings may be associated with a higher odds of developing a headache", noted lead investigator Elizabeth Mostofsky, ScD, Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA. Participants reported their caffeinated beverage intake, other lifestyle factors, and the timing and characteristics of each migraine headache every day for at least 6 weeks to be included in the trial. Nonetheless, consuming only one or two caffeinated drinks a day was generally not related to migraines, the study discovered.

In the study, 66 percent of participants wrote that they consumed one to two caffeinated beverages a day, while twelve percent reported having three to four. "However, in this self-matched analysis over only six weeks, each participant's choice and preparation of caffeinated beverages should be fairly consistent". However, among people who rarely consumed caffeinated beverages, even one to two servings increased the odds of having a headache that day. More than 90 percent of sufferers are unable to work or function at all during a migraine, which is why health care and lost productivity costs associated with migraines in the U.S. are estimated to be as high as $36 billion a year. For instance, it's not clear whether the findings apply to both people with episodic migraines and those with chronic migraines (characterized by 15 or more headaches per month).

The results were found by asking 98 participants to keep a diary of everything they drank in a day.

Another major constraint: The researchers only asked participants to log the number of caffeinated drinks they had per day, which means the amount of actual caffeine consumed is a bit of a mystery. "One serving of caffeine was defined as 8 ounces of caffeinated coffee, 6 ounces of tea, a 12-ounce can of soda, or a 2-ounce can of an energy drink", she said.

Still, the study was not able to examine whether factors such as the type of caffeinated beverages, total amount of caffeine or time of day of consumption affected the risk of migraines, and so more research is needed to investigate this, the authors said.

Caffeine clearly plays a "complex" role when it comes to migraine risk, added Mostofsky.

"People may consume caffeine and then have a caffeine withdrawal headache or they may have a headache and then try to self-treat with the caffeine", Minen said. For example, many migraine-sufferers use Excedrin-which contains aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine-to manage their symptoms.

"The other thing that's particularly interesting is that the effect of caffeine is likely to be affected by both the dose and the frequency", Mostofsky said.

While the debate over caffeine intake and harmful health effects is usually one that takes place among cardiologists, a recent study has found a link between excessive caffeine consumption and migraines.

Bottom line: There's no one-size-fits-all rule on caffeine consumption for people with migraines-or frankly, anyone.

"Do different individuals have different tolerances to caffeine? However, there is a subset of people who have the opposite reaction".

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