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Too much coffee could trigger migraines

09 August 2019

Getting through the day without caffeine can be hard for many consumers, but researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are now warning against consuming too much caffeine, as doing so can cause migraines.

Overall, "drinking one or two caffeinated beverages in a day does not appear to be linked to developing a migraine headache, however three or more servings may be associated with a higher odds of developing a headache", lead investigator Elizabeth Mostofsky said in a journal news release.

Migraine is a chronic condition characterized by intense pain in some areas of the cranium, including potential nausea, hypersensitivity to noise and/or light, and that can last for up to 72 hours. More than 90 percent of sufferers are unable to work or function at all during a migraine, which is why health care and lost productivity costs associated with migraines in the United States are estimated to be as high as $36 billion a year.

While migraines have always been studied, they remain cloaked in mystery, even as a number of triggering factors have been identified, such as genetic predisposition, environmental changes (fatigue, stress, variations in weather), and certain dietary choices.

She said that, before this study, there's been little rigorous research on the role of caffeine in migraine attacks, so there's been "limited evidence to formulate dietary recommendations for people with migraine". Participants completed electronic diaries twice a day for six weeks reporting on their caffeinated beverage intake, other lifestyle factors, and the timing and characteristics of each migraine headache. Results are consistent even after accounting for daily changes in alcohol intake, stress, sleep, physical activity, and menstruation, although there was some variation evident with oral contraception use. This isn't to say they didn't have migraines at all when drinking one to two caffeinated beverages in a day. Nonetheless, more analysis is required to confirm the findings; but it is an important first step for health awareness, as mentioned by Bertisch. The study compared each participant's incidence of migraines on days they consumed caffeinated beverage intake to the incidence of migraines on days they did not.

According to Mostofsky, "One serving of caffeine is typically defined as eight ounces or one cup of caffeinated coffee, six ounces of tea, a 12-ounce can of soda and a 2-ounce can of an energy drink".

Still, the study was not able to examine whether factors such as the type of caffeinated beverages, total amount of caffeine or time of day of consumption affected the risk of migraines, and so more research is needed to investigate this, the authors said. All other authors report no disclosures relevant to this manuscript.

"Despite the high prevalence of migraine and often debilitating symptoms, effective migraine prevention remains elusive for many patients", said Principal Investigator Suzanne M. Bertisch, MD, MPH, of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Harvard Medical School.

BIDMC is part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, a new health care system that brings together academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, community and specialty hospitals, more than 4,000 physicians and 35,000 employees in a shared mission to expand access to great care and advance the science and practice of medicine through groundbreaking research and education.

This story has been published on: 2019-08-08.

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Too much coffee could trigger migraines