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Have a headache or migraine? Coffee can help

Can caffeine help with headaches and migraines?

If you suffer from migraines, there's really no way to describe the pain — a throbbing head, neck pain, sensitivity to light, and even nausea are only some of the symptoms that could leave you completely debilitated until you feel relief. But how long does that take? 

Your options include waiting it out, taking an over-the-counter medication like Excedrin, or paying your doctor a visit if you're getting three or more headaches a week. There's another option, too, that many people use for relief — strong coffee.
 

The link between migraine medications and coffee is one key ingredient: Caffeine. Some people, like one of our community members Gail Dunmyer, found that strong coffee treats their migraines just as well — if not better than medication. For Gail, the answer to her migraines was Death Wish Coffee. 

"Several years ago I was looking online for a strong coffee to use for migraines, not wanting to use caffeine pills," Gail said.  "I remember searching for “strongest coffee" ... I couldn’t believe my luck that not only did it cure my headaches, but that I couldn’t drink any other coffee after that." 

But why does caffeine help treat migraines? That's a question scientists have studied for decades and are still trying to understand. Here's what we know: 

  • Caffeine blocks adenosine, which spikes during migraine attacks
  • Caffeine has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Caffeine is a key ingredient in pain-relieving headache medications

Before a headache or a migraine, blood vessels in your brain tend to enlarge, which is what causes pain and throbbing. This is where caffeine helps — because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it relieves pain just as well as some OTC medications (including aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen). Coffee can also help for people who feel they're becoming more dependent on using OTC medications to treat the pain.

Adenosine levels in your brain also tend to spike during migraine attacks. When caffeine enters your body, it binds itself to the adenosine receptors in your brain, acts as a bouncer, and doesn't allow adenosine in. 

Each caplet of Excedrin Extra Strength Pain Reliever contains 65 mg of caffeine (and is also mixed with 250 mg of acetaminophen and 250 mg of aspirin). But for someone looking for a more natural remedy for their migraines, coffee may be the answer. 

Be careful, though — too much caffeine has been found to trigger migraines in certain people. There's also also caffeine withdrawal, which can cause you even more pain. Because of this, consuming too much caffeine and then cutting back causes headaches in many people. The best solution? Find what works for you.

If you're trying different remedies and still suffering, though, it's time to call a doctor. While we like to think a coffee a day keeps the doctor away because of its numerous health benefits, that might not always be the case. 

Related: Here's what coffee does to your brain

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