The Migraine – Caffeine Connection

The Migraine – Caffeine Connection

By Jana Beeman, CHHC, AADP

For most of us who suffer from chronic migraines, eventually there comes a day when we realize there’s a problem with drinking coffee when we have a migraine, and yet other times when it helps. Why is that?

Let’s talk about the down side of caffeine first.

For starters, only some people who suffer from migraines get the nausea, and it doesn’t always happen with every migraine. And sometimes even those who normally don’t get nausea will have a ‘sensitive stomach’ day. It all depends on a number of things going on in the body.

Some people usually get nausea with migraines, and the acids in coffee can really spike that reaction, so that a little nausea becomes something much more intense. It’s not necessarily the caffeine – even decaf coffee can cause the same reaction in sensitive people, or people having a sensitive stomach migraine day. And with caffeinated coffee, a person who is sensitive might also get that shaky feeling from the caffeine, which can make the migraine feel more intense than it is. From my own experience, I can tell you that they are bad enough on their own without any help from coffee!

Now for the upside of caffeine…

Caffeinated tea doesn’t have the same acids as coffee, and is much less likely to upset the stomach, AND it can help your migraine medications work better as well as working on its own without other medications.

Think of caffeine as a drug. If you don’t already take in a lot of it, then it can be enough all by itself to slow or stop migraine onset. I’ve experienced this myself and seen it in my clients, but I’ve noticed it only really works with tea. At the first hint of migraine onset, having a cup of caffeinated black tea (black tea seems to work best for the most people) and doing a few of the other early onset exercised I recommend can often stop the migraine from “blooming” into a full blown migraine attack. Yes, I said stop it. Really. Now, it doesn’t always work for everyone and it certainly doesn’t work every time, but I’d say about 60 – 85% of the time, it makes a positive impact on migraine onset and intensity.

If you get chronic migraines, you know that 60 – 85% is a HUGE amount of help.

How can you improve your odds of getting help by using caffeine? Simple – get OFF of it!

Okay, if you drink coffee or tea every day, your body gets used to it, right? Then it isn’t very effective. It’s like when you take something every day to control an issue, it stops being as effective. So… you have to get off the daily caffeine routine.

I NEVER recommend stopping coffee cold turkey – that’s a sure way to trigger caffeine headaches. But if you want to see if caffeine can become a ‘drug’ to help with your chronic headache pain, then you need to get off it for it to be effective. So… step it down. Slowly reduce your caffeine consumption over a period of 2 weeks to a month, depending on how much caffeine you drink on a daily basis. For those migraineurs who take their coffee loaded with sugar and flavors, this is also going to help your body by reducing inflammation, which can often trigger more migraines, so you get a double bonus. And by drinking herbal tea and water, you are also hydrating the body the way it needs, and stopping those dehydration migraines from ever starting.

(Dehydration can trigger lots of migraines, so for those of you mostly drinking soda and coffee, my highest recommendation is to drink water and herbal tea. Water and herbal tea hydrate the body, while coffees, sodas and sugar-laden drinks dehydrate the body. For every one of those drinks you take in, most experts agree that you should also drink 1 – 2 same size servings of water or herbal tea.)

The easiest thing is to find teas that are caffeine free, whether herbal or decaf black or green tea, which you enjoy and replace one coffee a day, then two, then eventually ALL caffeine with tea. I find I personally like spicy flavored teas the best, such as chai, and that I don’t care for the tartness of hibiscus, so it makes it easier for me to find teas I will generally like. It is possible to find herbal chais that are excellent and full flavored, but you have to experiment. Many single herb teas are also excellent, such as spearmint or peppermint. Tea shops can be your best friend when looking for a great flavor or 10 to have in your kitchen. I carry my own teabags so when I go out, I can have a tea I love without having caffeine.

What about soda?

MOST soda is loaded with caffeine. Almost all soda is also loaded with sugar, sodium and chemicals such as artificial flavors and colors. I personally believe that putting chemicals in your body is not a good thing, and neither is the sodium or sugar. For those of you drinking diet soda, studies show the sweeteners break down in the body into chemicals which can 1) spike your blood sugar even though they are sugar-free, 2) cause insulin secretion which then has no real sugar to deal with so it goes to work storing body fat, 3) since it’s an alien chemical, the chemical gets stored in the body fat to protect the body and 4) when you lose weight, all those toxins are released into the body, causing headaches and other more severe issues. I also never suggest drinking the other diet drinks for the same reasons, nor do I think adding fruit flavored chemicals to your water is a good idea. If you want fruit flavor, get some real, organic fruit juice and mix it with water. If it’s not sweet enough, add some stevia, which is a natural and safe sweetener which actually has some positive health effects (such as showing benefits to heart health) and won’t spike your blood sugar or cause insulin release.

Personally, I drink water and decaf tea when I don’t have a migraine. No soda, almost no flavored coffees (maybe a couple a year), no drinks filled with sugar or sugar substitutes. I don’t drink milk either because it’s such a common allergen, and food allergies contribute greatly to migraines and because I don’t believe the human body needs milk past infancy. I also don’t drink regular fruit juice because it’s loaded with sugar, even organic natural juice – fruits contain a lot of sugar. Whole fruits contain fiber and naturally release their sugars into the body slowly, but juice has none of the fiber, so the sugar is as intense as a soda. If you drink juice, always get natural, unsweetened organic juice and mix with about 50% water.

Ok, now on to how to use caffeinated tea to help your migraines…

It works best if you catch your migraine before it ‘blooms’. At the first sign of onset, have a cup of caffeinated tea. I prefer teas with a great fragrance, so Earl Grey, Chai or Vanilla Chai, peppermint with black tea… those might be an option. I’ve found black tea works best for me, but you can experiment – every body is different, after all.

Sip your tea slowly and relax the head and neck (click here to sign up for a great free relaxation audio). Close your eyes if possible. If your stomach reacts to the tea, then stop drinking it, but if you’re ok, drink a full cup. After that, wait 15 – 30 minutes or so to see if there’s improvement, and if not, have a second cup. I don’t recommend more than that at one time. If you are going to take a medication for the pain, I suggest taking it with the tea to help it work better. Be careful of Excedrin or other medications that already contain caffeine, as it may be too much caffeine in the body at one time. If you’re taking a drug with caffeine, limit your tea to half a cup or make it weak and see how you’re doing.

I find that drinking caffeinated tea with a medication such as ibuprofen or a prescription such as Imitrex helps the drugs work faster and more efficiently, and that often, it can completely get rid of the migraine. You will want to experiment and note what works best for you. If you can’t stand tea, then you could do coffee if you’re not prone to stomach upset, or sugar-free caffeinated soda if there’s no other option. Sugar frequently spikes migraine pain, so avoid caffeinated drinks with sugar – using stevia is fine to add sweetness.

By switching your caffeine from a daily drink to a medicinal approach, you will reduce overall inflammation in the body, possibly reduce your sugar and chemical intake which also add to migraine issues, and have an effective new ally to help you in your search for faster pain relief. For those of you who use coffee as your morning wake up, I’d highly recommend replacing your coffee time with a short workout – it will wake you up and get your blood pumping, help you feel better all day long, and still save the caffeine for those migraine times when it can do you the most good. 

Jana Beeman is a Board Certified Health and Fitness Counselor, AADP Certified, Certified Yoga and Modified Yoga Instructor, Meditation, Hypnosis and EFT trainer and a specialist in chronic migraine pain relief. 

Visit www.balancedlifetoday.com/migraines.htm for information on her migraine programs and to sign up for her free Migraine Management Newsletter with more informative articles and great tips on migraine control. She offers frequent teleseminars, webinars and podcasts, and presentations at your location are available. Free 30-minute consultations about her program and how it might help you with your migraines are available on a limited basis.  Call (360) 263-5800 or email jana@balancedlifetoday.com

Read more of her articles on SelfGrowth.com at http://www.selfgrowth.com/experts/jana_beeman

Permission is granted to reprint this article in its entirety including all contact information. All rights reserved. March 2011.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Health care decisions should be made in partnership with a qualified health care professional. The contents of this article are based upon the opinions of the author unless otherwise noted. The information provided is for entertainment purposes only and Jana Beeman will not diagnose, treat or cure in any manner whatsoever any disease, condition or other physical or mental ailment of the human body.

About Jana Beeman

Jana Beeman is a Board Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Practitioner, Certified in Hypnosis, Yoga/Restorative Yoga, is an EFT, Meditation and Stress Relief Trainer specializing in helping people suffering from chronic pain and migraines reduce the pain, reduce the prescription medications and get their lives back. "With all my experience I've had with chronic migraines, other chronic conditions and having a really hard time managing my weight, I've learned lots of less-known techniques and I use everything in my toolbox to help my clients. Helping others get off the drugs and out of pain makes my own journey worthwhile." A portion of all income from her business is donated to various animal charities and wildlands conservation.
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