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Is Your Headache Triggered By Caffeine?

If you're used to drinking coffee to start your day, you might have experienced a "caffeine headache" when you don't get your morning cup of joe.

You're not alone. In fact, caffeine withdrawal headaches are quite common among coffee drinkers if they don't get their "fix." There are many causes, affects, and tips to minimize your headache symptoms when it comes to caffeine.

The Causes of "Caffeine Headaches"

When we drink coffee, or any caffeinated beverages (e.g., tea, energy drinks) the caffeine causes the blood vessels in the brain to constrict. When you stop the caffeine intake, the blood vessels in the brain dilate. This increases the blood flow and can trigger a headache. If you decide to drink caffeine, it is recommended that you increase your water consumption to compensate for its dehydration effects.

Although a "caffeine headache" is most commonly caused by withdrawal, it can also be triggered by excessive intake, medication overuse, caffeine sensitivity, allergic reaction, or a fluctuation of caffeine consumption from day to day.

How Caffeine Consumption Affects Headaches

We metabolize caffeine at different rates so there's no hard and fast rule on how much caffeine one can consume before experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Your bodyweight also affects how much caffeine is safe -- the heavier a person is, the more caffeine they can consume without negative effects.

For most healthy adults, an intake of 300-400 mg of caffeine a day is found to be safe in general, which is equivalent to four cups of brewed coffee. However, for some people who are sensitive or allergic to caffeine, even just a small amount can trigger reactions such as headaches.

Be mindful about the various sources of caffeine, such as black tea, green tea, chocolate, some soda, and certain OTC (over the counter) medications, which can add to your daily caffeine and calorie intake.

Caffeine Headaches by The Numbers

Caffeine-withdrawal headaches generally occur when you consume over 200mg of caffeine daily for 2 weeks, then stop or delay your caffeine intake. The headache goes away within an hour of consuming 100mg of caffeine. Here’s the amount of caffeine in various sources:

  • Coffee (brewed, 8oz.): 95-165 mg
  • Espresso (1oz.): 47-64 mg
  • Energy drinks (8oz.): 27-164 mg
  • Soda (8 oz.): 24-46 mg
  • Green tea (8oz.): 25-29 mg
  • Black tea (8 oz.): 25-48 mg
  • Milk Chocolate (1.5 oz.): 9 mg
  • Dark Chocolate (1.5 oz.): 30 mg

If you stop caffeine completely, caffeine-withdrawal headache symptoms should go away in about 1 week.

How to Minimize Caffeine Withdrawal Headaches

If you're trying to reduce your caffeine dependency by dialing back on your intake, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can put a damper on your efforts. Minimize caffeine withdrawal headaches using the following techniques:

  • Wean off your caffeine intake gradually by reducing your intake by 25% each week. You can also try swapping out some of your regular coffee with decaf if you crave the taste (or comfort) of a steaming cup of coffee.
  • Read food labels to ensure that you're not consuming extra caffeine you aren't aware of.
  • Use peppermint oil topically to help relieve inflammation and tighten muscles associated with headaches.
  • Drink plenty of water since dehydration can cause the brain to shrink in volume and cause a headache.
  • Apply an ice pack to your head to alter the blood flow or numb the area.
  • Stimulate pressure points to relieve muscle tension, which can cause headaches.
  • Get enough rest by taking naps or going to bed earlier than usual.

Caffeine headaches can be caused by a variety of triggers and withdrawal is one of the most common reasons. You can track your caffeine intake and notice how your body reacts so you can adjust your consumption and find the best way to wean your body from caffeine dependency while minimizing the withdrawal symptoms.