This post is from September 29, 2006.
Caffeine is often cited as a headache trigger, but it can be an effective abortive too. Many headache medicines even contain caffeine. Some books say to avoid caffeine at all costs, others warn that you not go over two cups a day.
As with every other headache treatment, it seems, the answer lies in your knowledge of your body. For years I thought my headaches were caused by withdrawal. Turns out I just have chronic daily headaches and caffeine reduces the pain.
I can drink caffeine daily without apparent ill effects, but I prefer to save it to use as a headache abortive. For many other people, drinking it regularly triggers headaches.
Part of finding the right balance between a helpful level and an excessive amount is figuring out just how much caffeine you consume. There are charts of caffeine levels in foods and drinks, but the solution is murkier than it seems.
- Sensitivity varies widely from one person to the next. Researchers attribute this to genetics and weight.
- Consuming caffeine right after eating a meal can slow down its effect.
- Nicotine is thought to stimulate enzymes that break caffeine down, so smokers can often tolerate higher doses of caffeine.
- Espresso doesn’t have more caffeine than drip coffee; it just has a stronger taste.
- Coffee and espresso at Starbucks have a higher caffeine content than what you make at home or get at a fast food restaurant or another coffeehouse.
- Chocolate has more caffeine than you think it does (at least more than I thought it did).
- Green tea has less caffeine than black tea. White tea has even less.
I was only able to figure out my body’s relationship to caffeine by going off it. My strategy is to gradually decreasing the amount that I drank until I was caffeine-free. (Some people go cold turkey, but that’s more misery than I care to bear. The nasty withdrawal headache can last from a few days to several weeks.) After that I played around with different levels of consumption.
What are your experiences with caffeine? Does it help, hurt or is it somewhere in between?
- National Public Radio — Coffee: A Little Really Does Go a Long Way
- National Headache Foundation — Fast Facts on Caffeine and Headache
- National Geographic — Caffeine