Coffee & Migraine Headaches

I had class on Monday, which was technically a holiday since July 4th fell on a Sunday. Needless to say, only a small group of us showed up, and our teacher finished an hour early in case we wanted to enjoy the rest of the day with friends and family. However, she did offer to stay a little later and answer any questions we had. Despite wanting to go home and rest (I had flown into Denver from Maine earlier that morning and was exhausted), I had to stay because this is always the best part of class! Our teacher is a naturopath, so she knows a lot about many different health issues and the natural remedies that can help them.

Someone asked about coffee, and why it can sometimes ease a migraine headache. If you are someone who has experienced a migraine, you know that they are extremely painful and debilitating. But why does coffee relieve this pain?

Coffee is a vasoconstrictor. Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of blood vessels that occurs when the muscular walls of the vessels contract. It causes decreased flow of blood in a localized area or throughout the body, and is one way the body regulates arterial pressure. Migraines, on the other hand, are often caused by vasodilation of the cranial blood vessels. Vasodilation refers to the expansion of the vessels, which leads to increased blood flow. So, when someone drinks a cup or two of coffee, this can initiate vasoconstriction, which can then relieve some of the migraine pain. In fact, many migraine medications act just as caffeine would – they work to narrow the blood vessels so blood flow in the head is more regulated. Some other common medications that are also vasoconstrictors include antihistamines, decongestants, and ADD or ADHD stimulant medications.

Some people are addicted to the caffeine in coffee (or, other drinks such as soda or energy drinks), and their bodies become dependant on the caffeine to regulate vasoconstriction. When they eliminate caffeine for an extended period of time, vasodilation occurs, making them crave more caffeine. If they give into these cravings, the caffeine will temporarily relieve the headache pain. However, if they continue to abstain, eventually the body will correct itself and start regulating the vasoconstriction and vasodilation without the aid of on outside stimulant such as caffeine.

If you are someone who is addicted to caffeine and experiences regular headaches, I would recommend reducing caffeine intake slowly, which will allow your body time to adjust to the changes. Hopefully, this will lead to fewer headaches and less dependency on caffeine. However, if you experience terrible migraine headaches and never consume any caffeine, just remember that if you’re in a pinch, a small cup of coffee may help relieve that pain. I don’t recommend becoming dependent on this remedy, but it’s something that may help every once in a while.

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