Migraines can be very rough. An estimated 1 billion people around the world suffer from migraines, which not only cause debilitating pain but also cause people to stop functioning properly. The role of coffee in migraines has not been properly explained – and to some extent the full spectrum of effects caused by coffee is unknown.
Almost 9 in 10 American adults consume coffee every day. It is the most widely consumed drink in the world, with over 400 billion cups a year. Unsurprisingly, coffee has also been extensively studied, but while the basics are fairly well known, the health effects of coffee are still widely debated. The insecurity is partly due to the coffee itself and partly to the people who process coffee in different ways.
The complex effects coffee has on the human body – or rather on part of it – has been investigated in a new study. A team of researchers looked at the potentially harmful effects of coffee on migraine risk.
“So far there are only a few prospective studies on the immediate risk of migraine headaches with daily changes in the intake of caffeinated drinks. Our study was unique in that we collected detailed information about caffeine, headaches, and other interesting factors every day for six weeks, ”commented Suzanne M. Bertisch, principal researcher on the study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Researchers aren’t entirely sure why migraines occur, but one of the most compelling theories has to do with blood vessels in the brain. The painful throbbing that most people experience during a migraine is due to inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels, which increases blood flow around the brain. Since coffee can raise blood pressure, it makes sense that coffee plays a role here – and previous studies have shown that people may have more migraines after consuming coffee, even though coffee is not believed to be the cause of the migraines.
In the most recent study, Bertisch and colleagues kept 98 adults suffering from episodic migraines in an electronic diary twice a day for six weeks. They reported on their coffee consumption and other lifestyle factors and compared the frequency of migraines with coffee consumption.
The data showed that participants had an average of 5 headaches per month. However, those who consumed three or more servings reported significantly greater numbers of migraines. This suggests that high intake of caffeinated drinks that day could be a trigger for migraine headaches, the researchers said. Participants who had 0, 1, or 2 servings per day had approximately 1 headache per day, while those who had 5 or more servings had an average of over 2 headaches per day.
“Based on our study, drinking a caffeinated drink or two in a day does not appear to be associated with developing migraine headaches. However, three or more servings may be linked to a higher chance of developing a headache, ”noted senior investigator Elizabeth Mostofsky.
It should be noted that this is a small sample size and the study found only correlation and not causality, but the methodology is thorough and suggests a worrying association – although the extent of these concerns is still debated. At the very least, it will require more research on a larger sample – and for the hardcore coffee drinkers out there, you might want to reconsider having that extra mug.
The study “Prospective Cohort Study on Intake of Caffeinated Drinks as a Potential Headache Trigger in Migraine Patients” was published in the American Journal of Medicine.
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