Understanding the Relationship Between Coffee and Headaches: Cause or Cure?

[Kwon Sun-il’s Health Research]

The Connection Between Coffee and Headaches: Understanding Caffeine

For many coffee lovers, skipping that morning cup can result in a pounding headache. But does coffee actually cause or cure these headaches? Scientists have conducted numerous studies on the subject, revealing that both excessive and insufficient consumption of coffee can trigger headaches. The culprit behind this relationship is caffeine, the primary component of coffee.

Dr. Richard Lipton, a neurology professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, explains, “The key to understanding caffeine is to remember that it is not your ordinary ingredient.”

Caffeine possesses stimulant and vasoconstrictor properties, meaning it increases brain activity while narrowing blood vessels in the head. This understanding helps us grasp how caffeine serves as both a headache trigger and a reliever.

When blood vessels in the brain dilate excessively, caffeine’s effect of constricting these vessels can relieve headaches caused by increased blood flow. However, for regular caffeine consumers, a headache may occur when the familiar vasoconstriction effect of caffeine is absent, leading to vasodilation and increased blood flow to the brain. This is often experienced by office workers who consume coffee during the week but abstain on the weekends.

Using Caffeine to Alleviate Headaches

In addition to its potential to trigger headaches, caffeine also possesses the ability to relieve withdrawal headaches and prevent migraines. This is why caffeine is an ingredient in many over-the-counter headache medications.

It is important to note that caffeine alone is not a painkiller, but it can enhance the effectiveness of pain relievers when combined with them. The exact synergy between caffeine and pain relief is not yet fully understood, but it is believed to be related to caffeine’s impact on brain activity.

When consumed, caffeine molecules bind to adenosine receptors in the brain and spinal cord. Adenosine is a compound that normally slows down nerve activity, but caffeine blocks its function, resulting in increased nerve activity. Caffeine also constricts blood vessels, counteracting the dilating effect caused by adenosine. As some headaches are partly caused by dilated blood vessels in the head, caffeine’s vasoconstrictor effect can relieve these headaches. Caffeine also interferes with pain signals generated by adenosine, further contributing to headache relief. Studies have indicated that the combination of caffeine with pain relievers can lead to faster absorption and prolonged effects.

However, it is worth noting that the pain-relieving abilities of caffeine vary depending on an individual’s typical caffeine consumption. Regular caffeine users develop a tolerance and may become dependent on its effects, which can eliminate its headache-relieving properties.

The Balance: How Much Coffee Should You Consume?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that healthy adults limit their caffeine intake to 400 mg per day, which equates to approximately four to five cups of coffee. However, individual sensitivity to caffeine can vary, so it is crucial to consider personal tolerance levels.

Experts emphasize the dual nature of caffeine, stating that while it can uplift mood, boost productivity, and prevent pain, excessive consumption and addiction can lead to debilitating headaches.

A standard cup of Americano (355 ml) typically contains around 120 to 200 mg of caffeine. Consuming less than two cups a day is deemed safe. It is worth noting that caffeine is not exclusive to coffee; it is present in various other sources. For instance, cola contains 45 mg per can, chocolate has 16 mg per 30g, and green tea contains 40 mg per cup. It is important to consider the caffeine content of foods and beverages beyond just coffee.

The rate at which caffeine is metabolized varies significantly from person to person. On average, a healthy adult eliminates most of the ingested caffeine within 6 to 7 hours. However, this time duration may be longer for individuals who smoke or take certain medications. Children or individuals with severe liver damage may require 3 to 4 days for complete caffeine clearance.

For those already addicted to caffeine, experiencing “weekend headaches,” experts advise gradually reducing caffeine intake by replacing regular coffee with decaffeinated alternatives over a few weeks. This approach can help avoid withdrawal symptoms and the associated headaches.

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Enter 2023.09.01 08:25 Hits 102 Enter 2023.09.01 08:25 Hit 102 Even people who enjoy coffee can prevent headaches by drinking one or two cups a day in moderation. [사진=클립아트코리아]

If a person who enjoys morning coffee accidentally skips one cup in the morning, his temples start to throb and his head hurts. It’s not a problem if you don’t drink, but drinking more coffee than usual can cause these symptoms. On the other hand, a cup of coffee can prevent some migraine symptoms.

So, is coffee the cause or the cure for headaches? During this time, scientists have carried out a number of studies. The reality is that drinking too much or not enough coffee is a problem. This is due to caffeine, the main component of coffee.

Dr. Richard Lipton, professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, USA, said in an interview with the science media ‘Livescience’, “The key to understanding caffeine is to remember that caffeine is not an ordinary ingredient.”

Caffeine has stimulant and vasoconstrictor properties, meaning it speeds up brain activity and narrows the veins in the head. This explanation helps us understand the role of caffeine in relation to headaches. As a headache trigger and reliever.

In other words, caffeine has the effect of narrowing blood vessels in the brain, relieving headaches caused by excessive blood flow. But the problem arises for those who are familiar with caffeine. It is said that when people who normally have restricted blood vessels thanks to caffeine do not drink coffee, the blood vessels expand and blood flows to the brain, causing a headache. This is why office workers who drink coffee during the week suffer from headaches if they don’t drink coffee on the weekends.

|Caffeine to Relieve Headaches|

Caffeine has the ability to relieve withdrawal headaches or prevent migraines. Caffeine is an ingredient in many over-the-counter medications, including headache medications such as Exidrin.

Experts say, “Caffeine is not a painkiller by itself, but it makes it more effective when combined with painkillers.” The synergistic effect of caffeine with pain relief is not yet fully understood, but is believed to be related to caffeine activity in the brain.

Caffeine molecules bind to adenosine receptors in the brain and spinal cord. Adenosine, which is normally part of RNA and the main chemical fuel used by the body’s cells, is blocked by caffeine. Adenosine slows down nerve activity, but caffeine increases it.

Adenosine increases blood flow and dilates blood vessels, while caffeine constricts blood vessels. Caffeine as a vasoconstrictor relieves headaches, as some headaches are partly due to dilated blood vessels in the head.

Also, because adenosine plays a complex role in pain transmission, sometimes silencing or stimulating pain signals, caffeine can relieve headaches by interfering with these signals. Studies have shown that when pain relievers such as acetaminophen are taken together with caffeine, they are absorbed more quickly and their effects can last longer.

However, according to Stanford Health Care, caffeine’s pain-relieving abilities vary greatly depending on how much people typically consume. People develop a tolerance from frequent caffeine use and become dependent on the effects of caffeine, which eliminates headache relief.

|Caffeine Causes Headaches|

Conversely, caffeine can cause headaches. When people eat less than usual and when they eat too much. If you eat less than usual, you may experience headaches because caffeine starts to change the structure of your brain with daily use.

“When you’re chronically exposed to caffeine, your brain doesn’t function normally unless there’s caffeine around,” says Lipton. Studies have shown that regular caffeine intake increases the number of adenosine receptors in a person’s brain, making them more sensitive to the effects of adenosine.

Withdrawal headaches occur because our bodies get used to the constriction of blood vessels that comes with daily caffeine, without which the blood vessels can suddenly dilate and cause a headache. The good news is that once you consume caffeine, these headaches go away, or after a period of time without caffeine, the number of adenosine receptors in your brain decreases.

Drinking too much caffeine can also cause headaches. Headaches are one of the many side effects of caffeine overdose, and in some migraine sufferers, some studies have shown that caffeinated drinks can cause headaches.

|What is the right amount of coffee to consume?|

To be safe, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that healthy adults should limit their caffeine intake to 400 mg, which is equivalent to four to five cups of coffee a day. However, it should be noted that this may vary depending on the individual’s sensitivity to caffeine.

“Caffeine is definitely a double-edged sword,” say experts. It can improve mood, improve productivity and sometimes prevent pain, but excessive drinking and addiction can cause throbbing headaches.

The daily caffeine intake recommended by the Food and Drug Administration is 400mg, the same as the FDA. A cup of Americano (355 ml) sold in coffee shops contains around 120 to 200 mg of caffeine. Less than two drinks a day is safe. Caffeine isn’t just in coffee. There is 45mg in cola (one can), 16mg in chocolate (30g) and 40mg in green tea (one cup). You should also weigh the amount of food you eat.

The speed at which caffeine is broken down varies greatly from person to person. A healthy adult breaks down most of the caffeine consumed in about 6 to 7 hours. However, if you smoke or take other medicines, the time is longer. Children or people with severe liver damage can wait 3 or 4 days.

So what should people who are already addicted to caffeine and suffer from ‘weekend headaches’ do? Experts advise, “If you reduce your caffeine intake by slowly replacing regular coffee with decaffeinated coffee over several weeks, you can avoid headaches caused by caffeine withdrawal symptoms.”

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