Caffeine relieves or prevents migraines

Coffee and Migraines - Triggers or Painkillers? The secret of C8H10N4O2

Coffee drives away tiredness, increases concentration and even - as recent studies show - improves long-term memory. Because when we consume caffeine, the heart beats stronger and faster, the intestines and metabolism are stimulated, the bronchi are expanded and the blood vessels in the brain constrict.

The side effects of too much coffee are well known: double espresso after dinner often makes us difficult to sleep, which can result in nervousness and sometimes headaches. But too little caffeine can have consequences. Those who suddenly do without the usual dose of caffeine sometimes briefly feel withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, mood swings, tiredness or even headaches.

Positive and negative effects of coffee on headache

Migraine sufferers in particular are familiar with this. If migraine attacks occur on the weekend - and they do this more often than average - an interesting question arises:

  • How does caffeine consumption change during this time?
  • Do the three cups fall away at work and the headache arises from withdrawal?
  • Or is it the so-called “let-down effect”, the drop in stress levels, that caused the migraines?
  • Or a combination of both?

However, those affected often make wrong connections, so-called confirmation errors, e.g. by interpreting the daily coffee as a protective factor and then always determining the withdrawal as a trigger in such a way that their own long-awaited expectation is fulfilled.

If the coffee is reduced without causing a headache, it is usually overlooked. But if the coffee is reduced and a migraine sets in purely by chance, you immediately establish a supposed connection. In other words, at first there is no such connection. But over time, the connection is practically learned.

Coffee withdrawal or other triggers can work like the bell in Pavlov's dogs - a phenomenon that falls under the placebo effect and lasts for a long time: the cup of coffee (or its lack of it) becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in the sense of classic conditioning. Experts consider their own expectations to be one of the most important migraine triggers. This conditioning works even better with a so-called “novel-tasting drink” - e.g. flavored coffee.

It is not as easy as it may seem at first glance to objectively test whether a real migraine attack can also be interpreted as an indirect withdrawal symptom. Incidentally, this also applies to other potential influencing factors.

It helps to keep a headache diary. Because if you enter every day how much coffee you have drunk, for example, and when a headache attack occurred, the connection can be objectively established afterwards. With our migraine and headache app M-sense, you can keep a headache diary easy and uncomplicated because you always have it with you. The app also analyzes the results and helps prevent future attacks.

What seems certain is that constant coffee consumption is preferable. If you take your two to three cups during the week, you shouldn't do without the daily dose on the weekend either.

Interesting facts about the caffeine content

The caffeine content of coffee varies depending on the preparation and type of coffee. A cup of brewed coffee has about 80 mg of caffeine, an espresso a little less, maybe 50 or 60 mg of caffeine. A heavily brewed tea can contain the same amount of caffeine as espresso or coffee. In the case of other beverages, there is often no information at all about the amount. Unfortunately, the caffeine content only has to be reported from a concentration of 15 mg per 100 ml. Caffeine is also found in cola, mate, guarana and energy drinks, among other things.

Some pain relievers also rely on the effects of caffeine. Active ingredients such as acetylsalicic acid (ASA) or paracetamol caffeine are added to increase their effectiveness.

How caffeine works

The answer to the question about the effects of caffeine can be found deep in the synapse gap - this is where nerve cells meet and communicate via messenger substances.

Here, caffeine occupies the receptors that normally take up the messenger substance adenosine, the function of which is actually to prevent our brain from overexerting itself. If the adenosine receptors are blocked, wonderfully stimulating substances such as dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline are released.

And it gets even better: Adenosine normally also acts on the receptors at the nerve endings that make them more sensitive to pain. However, if these are occupied by caffeine, this has a positive, pain-relieving effect.