If you do enough research on coffee, specifically caffeine, you could start to believe it’s a wonder drug. Health professionals variously trumpet that it can:
- protect against Alzheimer’s
- stave off type II diabetes
- fight colon cancer
- help with depression
- benefit Parkinson’s sufferers.
We just wanted to understand whether it can cure a headache. But what exactly is this substance that is a common ingredient in many painkillers?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant most commonly found in tea, coffee and cacao plants, explains healthline.com. It stimulates the brain and central nervous system and can help you stay alert and awake.
Historians have tracked the first brewed tea back to 2737BC, and coffee was reportedly discovered a few years later by an Ethiopian goatherd who noticed his goats had extra energy after consuming coffee beans.
Caffeinated soft drinks hit the market in the late 1800s and energy drinks soon followed.
Today, 80 per cent of the world’s population consume a caffeinated product each day, and this number goes up to 90 per cent for adults in North America, says healthline.com.
Whether it causes or cures headaches is the million dollar question.
Headaches commonly relate to what we eat and what we drink or don’t drink. For example, tap beer has 25 times the migraine-inducing tyramine (a natural substance found in many foods) as bottled beer, so perhaps the blame is with the 30-minute visit to the pub on the way home and not the two cups of coffee you have with breakfast.
Many people say chocolate brings on a headache. Chocolate does contain caffeine, but nowhere near as much as a cup of coffee. You’d have to eat a backyard full of Easter eggs to get the caffeine hit of an espresso.
Because caffeine reduces inflammation, it is found in most modern-day pain relievers. It can also narrow blood vessels that surround the brain. If you stop drinking it, those vessels expand again and that can cause pain.
If you get headaches, ask yourself: “How much caffeine do I consume in a day?”
As caffeine is contained in many drinks and foods, you may need to sit down and carefully calculate your daily consumption.
Completely cutting out caffeine may be the answer, but it may also have what doctors call a rebound effect, so, as a test, perhaps turn that two-cups-a-day down to one and see if that helps.
Caffeine can assist sufferers of a rare condition called hypnic headaches. These strike older people, waking them in the middle of the night with severe pain. Doctors tell them to have a cup of coffee before bed, or as soon as the headache wakes them.
So it’s all very confusing, and even the medical experts can only offer vague advice when it comes to caffeine intake and headaches. For example, as well as leading to headaches, too much caffeine may cause insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, a faster heartbeat and muscle tremors.
It’s about finding the balance that’s right for you. Eat well and drink plenty of water, at least five glasses a day, because too little water can also be a cause of headaches.
But that’s another story. The best advice if you suffer from headache is to see your doctor.
Do you turn into an ogre without your daily cup of coffee or tea? Or does that daily ritual leave you with a headache instead?
Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.