Caffeine Good vs Evil: The Link Between Coffee and Migraines

For migraine sufferers, caffeine-laden drinks can be difficult. What is the link between coffee and migraines? Is your morning cup of joe helping or hurting you on the quest to migraine symptom relief? This article will explain when caffeine is beneficial and when it may be holding you back.

Coffee and Migraines: Basics and Withdrawals

Coffee’s main impact on migraines comes from its caffeine content. With anywhere from 45-475 mg of caffeine per cup, coffee is one of the most caffeine-heavy beverages available. This probably isn’t news to you.

What may be more surprising is the way coffee and migraines are linked. One of caffeine’s effects on the body is a constriction of the blood vessels. For those who must have their coffee daily, after a while, the body begins to dilate, or widen, your blood vessels in order to increase blood flow to your brain.

So, what happens when you suddenly skip your morning Starbucks run? Well, your body still expects a caffeine hit, so it dilates the blood vessels anyway. This is why people who stop drinking caffeine all at once get caffeine withdrawal headaches.

The increased amount of blood flow to the head and resultant headache can be a serious annoyance, but it will typically subside within a week if you quit caffeine cold turkey.

For the migraine sufferer, the caffeine withdrawal can be worse, as the cessation of coffee is more than enough to trigger a full-blown migraine, but did you know, drinking coffee may also cause migraines.

How Coffee Can Hurt Migraine Sufferers

For those of us migraineurs, caffeine itself may be harmful. Caffeine is a stimulant, and as such, drinking (or eating) caffeine can push your little adrenal glands into overdrive. This can lead to the development of, or the worsening of, adrenal fatigue syndrome.

If you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue-related migraines, (and most migraineurs are) caffeine only going to makes your underlying causes of the migraine worse. As your already depleted adrenal glands kick into overdrive in order to handle the stress of your daily life activities, drinking caffeine seems like a good idea to give you the “kick” you need to handle your day. The problem is, the caffeine does its job very well. You get the jolt you need, but because you’re pushing your adrenal glands harder than what they are capable of, when the caffeine finally wears of, you crash, hard. This further depletes your hormone levels and leaves you with a massive migraine to boot.

Subjecting your body to additional stimulants when it is already in a state of adrenal fatigue is a surefire way to trigger a migraine.

How Coffee Can Help a Migraine

In some cases, coffee and migraines can actually get along. Adrenal fatigue can be negatively impacted by caffeine, but migraines can be caused by many other things not associated with adrenal fatigue, including:

  • Underlying medical problems
  • Environmental stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Food allergies

When this is the case, caffeine may help you find relief from your migraine attack.

Caffeine’s ability to constrict the blood vessels in the head can help to ease the pain of a migraine. In the same way a withdrawal headache occurs because the vessels dilate (widen), the constriction can make headache or migraine symptoms loosen up their vice grip a bit.  Keep in mind, research shows only approximately 30% of migraineurs suffer a migraine because of blood vessel dilation.

In addition to its direct effects, caffeine can help your body absorb other medications quicker. While this is only a temporary fix, it may help you find relief, though you should work on finding underlying triggers and making appropriate lifestyle changes for long term relief.

The Takeaway

There is no easy, universal answer to what will and won’t help a migraine. Each patient has specific needs, and require individualized care in order to find relief. Coffee and migraines can be bitter enemies or good friends, depending on the situation.

If you don’t know the cause of your migraines, you should begin your search for relief with a qualified medical provider who can help you create an individualized treatment plan. If you don’t know where to start, reach out and schedule an appointment with me. I offer in-office or long-distance phone consultations.  We can work together to get you back    on the path to a pain-free life.


American Migraine Foundation – Caffeine and Migraines

Live Science – 5 Experts Answer: Does Caffeine Cause or Cure Headaches?

Center for Science in the Public Interest – Caffeine Chart

Hum Brain Mapp. 2009 Oct; 30(10): 3102–3114.