Does Caffeine Really Affect Your Migraines?

By Migraines

Some research shows migraine sufferers drink more coffee than non-migraineurs. One study reports there’s a modest relationship (correlation) between migraines and caffeine consumption. (See Scher, AI, Stewart WF, & Lipton RB. (2004). Neurology. Caffeine as a risk factor for chronic daily headache: a population-based study. 63(11):2022-7).

Remember: things can be related (correlated) without one causing the other. A favorite example of silly causation is: As ice cream sales go up so do drownings. People buy more ice cream when it’s hot, more people go swimming, and more people drown. They are correlated, but the heat index causes both. Few of us went swimming in the winter in my birth state of Wisconsin except “Polar Bear Club” patrons.

Why would caffeine consumption correlate with migraines?

  • First: many headache medications contain caffeine.  See: https://migraine.com/migraine-treatment/natural-remedies/caffeine/ The article mentions Anacin, Midol, Excedrin Migraine, and more. The article is from the blog, www.Migraine.com which offers great information. Check it out. Thus, migraine sufferers consume more caffeine, but that correlation doesn’t mean caffeine gives you migraines. If it’s medicines, then we’ll consume more than non-migraineurs.
  • Second: Some folks notice drinking coffee reduced their pain and self-medicate with coffee. My dad did this. He had “migraine with aura” (classic) and knew a headache would appear within 30 minutes. He’d get a tablespoon of salt and wash it down with a cup of coffee, and that reduced the pain. Many migraineurs agree with my dad.

Both caffeine and salt constrict the blood vessels. There’s a hypothesis that dilation of the blood vessels causes migraines. Since caffeine constricts the blood vessels, then caffeine may help. But many researchers don’t believe dilation of the blood vessels is the culprit. See http://www.ohsu.edu/blogs/brain/2013/07/31/migraine-pain-headache/ for more on that. Some people find excessive exercise brings on migraines. What does excessive exercise do? It dilates the blood vessels. Golly-whiz. That’s another reason not to exercise excessively. I never got a migraine from exercising, but I’m not an excessive exerciser.

There is support for the blood vessel constriction hypothesis. See: https://www.selfhacked.com/blog/natural-treatment-migraines/ The author is clear the reference is to vasodilation headaches which can include migraines and cluster headaches.

So, can caffeine help reduce migraine pain? Many patients think it does irrespective of the latest medical hypothesis. Is it all “in the mind?” Perhaps it is the placebo effect. But, as they say, who cares if it is the placebo effect—it still helps. Also, coffee may help prevent or lessen the effects of Alzheimer’s. I think I’ll break for a cup of coffee; maybe I should have two cups. I know if I don’t drink my morning coffee, I’ll get a terrible headache, but that’s not a migraine.

You can find many articles related to this topic by Googling “Caffeine and migraines.” As with much migraine research, you’ll find varying viewpoints. Now for my coffee; it’s a cheap addiction and I don’t think it has any effect—good or bad—on my migraines.