Who hasn’t experienced headaches?
We all have, right?
Whether it’s because of stress, lack of sleep, or some annoying random kid throwing a tantrum, headaches just pop out of nowhere.
But what if it is due to caffeine?
This should be a shocker because not only do we consume foods and drinks that contain caffeine everyday, but also because it is a common ingredient in pain relieving medications. Ironic, isn’t it?
Keep on reading as I further discuss the relationship between headache and caffeine.
Let me start with how caffeine helps relieve pain.
It helps decrease inflammation and constricts blood vessels, therefore, narrowing blood flow. This helps in the pain relief of headaches because in headaches, the blood vessels tend to enlarge. That is why it is a common ingredient in pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
This is the same reason why caffeine causes headaches.
Caffeine is the world’s most commonly consumed psychoactive substance. Some people, who become too dependent on caffeine, will experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly eliminate it from their diet. Since caffeine causes vasoconstriction, if those who are used to it will suddenly stop their intake, their blood vessels will open up and increase blood flow to the brain. This sudden change in blood flow is what causes the headache.
Since we are already on the topic, let me tell you more about Caffeine withdrawal symptoms
- Headache. It is the most common symptom of caffeine withdrawal. Tension headaches commonly start at the back of the head and neck. And it is characterized by dilated blood vessels around the skull.
- Fatigue. Caffeine is a great energy booster but those who become too dependent on caffeine for energy will have the opposite effect if they suddenly stop their caffeine consumption.
- Anxiety. Feeling jittery and anxious are common symptoms experienced by those who are sensitive to caffeine. But those who become physically and psychologically dependent on it experiences anxiety.
- Difficulty concentrating. Since caffeine also helps improve one’s concentration by increasing the levels of some neurotransmitters and hormones, the opposite effect will surface for those who rely too much on it.
- Depressed mood. Coffee is a common favourite drink in the morning. That delicious creamy taste and that soothing aroma… Of course we will feel depressed if we will suddenly stop drinking this beverage. Just kidding! While that might be true for some, those who are dependent on caffeine for the elevation of their mood will feel this symptom if their consumption of caffeine is halted.
- Irritability. This might be caused by the caffeine in coffee. The said beverage only lasts in the system for about six hours. So this symptom can occur during the night’s rest.
- Tremors. It typically occurs in the hands and should only last for two to nine days.
- Low energy. Like the above symptoms, those dependent on caffeine for an energy boost will have the opposite effect if there is sudden abstinence. Moreover, those who stay up late at night tend to drink coffee or energy drinks to stay awake. But that effect is only temporary. If your body is telling you to sleep, sleep.
Does caffeine help tension headaches?
Tension headaches are described as “tightness” that begins in the back of the head and upper neck. Its cause is unknown but others believe that it might be because of the muscle contraction covering the skull. It usually happens due to physical or emotional stress placed on the body.
It is characterized by dilated blood vessels around the skull. As I have mentioned above, caffeine can help treat it due to its vasoconstrictive properties.
Be careful though, because it might also cause it. I believe that the effects of caffeine—pain relief or the cause of pain itself—depends on how we discipline ourselves when consuming caffeine.
Caffeine withdrawal headache how long?
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms typically begin 12 to 24 hours after your last caffeine intake. If you’ve been too dependent on caffeine, the symptoms, like headache, may last a week. Other sources say that it may last up to two to nine days, with peak intensity of symptoms occurring 24–51 hours after caffeine is cut out.
Since I have already elaborated above the different withdrawal symptoms, I will now focus on how to reduce them.
- Cut back slowly. This is the best way to do it. Quitting cold turkey will only shock the body and worsen the symptoms.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration can worsen the symptoms like headache and fatigue.
- Get enough sleep. As I have mentioned above, the energy boost provided by caffeine is only temporary. Give yourself enough rest, especially when your body demands it.
- Reduce caffeinated beverages. Try switching to decaf herbal tea. Or if you are used to drinking four cups of coffee per day, go down to three cups a day for the first week.
- Boost energy naturally. Too much of anything can cause negative effects. Dependence on caffeine causes withdrawal symptoms. Give natural energy-boosters a shot, like exercise, nutrient-dense food, and stress reduction techniques.
Why do headache medications contain caffeine?
I once read something in a comic book that says, “Medicine is just poison in small doses.”
While that might sound scary, it might be true, especially in the effects of caffeine.
As you have read a while ago, caffeine is a common ingredient in pain relieving medications but being too dependent on it can cause withdrawal symptoms.
Analgesics contain caffeine because it makes them work faster by 40%. Caffeine also helps the body in absorbing the medicine, therefore, hastening the effect of pain relief. This also helps decrease the side effects and the risk of habitual or addictive usage.
Here’s a list of common drugs that contain caffeine:
Over-the-counter drugs include
- Anacin Maximum Strength: 32 mg.
- Anacin Tablets and Caplets: 32 mg.
- Aspirin-Free Excedrin Caplets: 65 mg.
- Excedrin Extra Strength Caplets and Tablets: 65 mg.
- Excedrin Migraine: 65 mg.
- Goody’s Extra Strength Tablets: 16.25 mg.
- Goody’s Extra Strength Headache Powder: 32.50 mg.
- Goody’s Cool Orange Powder: 65 mg.
- Midol Menstrual Maximum Strength Caplets: 60 mg.
- NoDoz Maximum Strength: 200 mg.
- Pain Reliever Plus Tablets: 65 mg.
- Vanquish Caplets: 33 mg.
- Vivarin: 200 mg.
While prescription drugs are
- Ergotamine/Caffeine Suppositories (Migergot): 100 mg.
- Ergotamine/Caffeine Tablets (Cafergot): 100 mg.
- Fiorinal Capsules: 40 mg.
- Fiorinal with Codeine Capsules: 40 mg.
- Fioricet Tablets: 40 mg.
- Orphenadrine Citrate, Aspirin and Caffeine (Norgesic): 30 mg.
- Orphenadrine Citrate, Aspirin and Caffeine (Norgesic Forte): 60 mg.
- Synalgos-DC: 30 mg.
There are a lot more that are not included in this list. Make sure to always check the label and always ask your doctor if you want to know more about the medications you are taking.
And again, let me remind you NOT to be dependent on these medications. Yes, they help in getting rid of pain but if you rely too much on them, adverse effects might be waiting for you in the corner.
Remember, 300 to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. If you regularly take more than this, your body will become too dependent on it. This might cause the pain relievers to not work their magic anymore. Then you will need stronger pain medications. Or maybe you will even experience withdrawal symptoms.
I am not trying to scare anyone. Just a very quick reminder that you should not rely too much on instant pain relievers. Heck, even I take pain meds from time to time but not very often.
Have a healthy lifestyle. Eat balanced and nutritious food, exercise daily, do not overwork yourself, and rest when you have to. If you keep this up, you might not need any pain meds at all.
Why does decaf coffee give me a headache?
Some people might think that since the caffeine in coffee can cause headaches and other withdrawal symptoms, they will switch to decaf, right?
This is not entirely wrong but it is indeed, a healthier option. However, decaffeinated coffee can still cause headaches.
The culprit to this is the method used to extract the caffeine. There are a lot of ways to decaffeinate coffee but first let me tell you how decaf was discovered.
According to coffee lore, it all started in the 1900’s, when coffee beans were soaked in seawater during shipping and extracted some of the caffeine. Then, the German coffee merchant, Ludwig Roselius, patented the first commercially successful means of decaffeinating coffee a few years after the incident.
However, Roselius’ method didn’t just use salt water. A more potent chemical solvent called benzene was included. This chemical can cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness, and eye/ skin/ respiratory tract irritation when inhaled. It has also been linked to cancer, blood disorders and fetal development issues if used in high doses and for a prolonged period of time.
Because of this, some coffee manufacturers switched to safer methods in extracting caffeine. This include the following:
- Green, unroasted coffee beans are soaked or steamed until the caffeine is dissolved or until the pores have opened and the caffeine can be extracted.
- Liquid carbon dioxide method. It relies on synthetic chemicals such as ethyl acetate – which are naturally found in some fruits—and methylene chloride – which is used in adhesives, paint and pharmaceuticals.
- Swiss Water Process. It is good at taking just the caffeine away and leaving the other flavour compounds from the beans. This is why it tends to produce the most flavourful coffee. Of course, this means that it is also more expensive.
The Swiss Water Process and the use of ethyl acetate are said to be healthy but that is not true for the use of methylene chloride.
Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are experienced when this chemical is inhaled in small doses. At higher doses, it can cause headache, confusion, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fatigue, and has been found to cause liver and lung cancer in animals.
Compared to the use of benzene, these new methods are much safer and are generally found on beans only in trace amounts. But just because it is decaffeinated, does not mean you can chug as much of it as you want. I’ll repeat it again, too much of everything is harmful.
Can decaf coffee cause migraines?
I might have forgotten, so let me tell you that decaf coffee still has caffeine in them. Only 97% of caffeine was removed. Depending on the method, each cup contains an average of 0-7 mg of caffeine, unlike a regular cup, which has about 70-140 mg.
Quitting cold turkey on caffeine causes severe migraine attacks. This means that if you are used to drinking a lot of coffee or consuming anything that contains caffeine, then suddenly eliminated it from your diet, you will surely be greeted by migraine.
Still, it depends on each person if caffeine will cause or relief of migraine, if taken or eliminated from their diet. Since decaf coffee contains smaller amounts of caffeine, those who are used to be heavy regular coffee drinkers are more likely to experience migraine if they suddenly switch to decaf.
Why does coffee give me a headache but tea doesn’t?
If you were asked to choose between coffee and tea, which will you choose?
Is it such a hard question? Coffee lovers might have an answer in an instant but to all the undecided ones, here’s why you might want to consider tea: the latter contains less caffeine.
One cup or eight ounces of black tea contains 14-70 mg of caffeine, and green tea has 24-45 mg, while coffee might have 95-200 mg. That’s quite a difference, if you ask me.
If you are still not used to either drinks, maybe it is safer to choose tea. As mentioned above, coffee causes headaches because once our body gets used to its caffeine content, our blood vessels will dilate when the intake is suddenly reduced or stopped completely. That sudden change in blood flow will then lead to headaches.
Since tea has lesser caffeine, your body will not be too dependent on its caffeine content, unless of course, you drink too much of it daily.
- Ginger tea. It is even safe for pregnant women.
- Peppermint tea. It also has pain-relieving effects.
- Willowbark tea. It contains an active ingredient called salicin, which is chemically similar to aspirin.
- Clove tea
- Feverfew tea
- Chamomile tea. It is also used to treat insomnia and anxiety.
All that being said, some might still prefer the taste of coffee than tea.
In the end, both drinks have their own advantages and disadvantages. It just depends on you which you will choose. And how much of it will you take daily.