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How much caffeine will cause a migraine?

Drinking more than two caffeinated beverages per day could cause severe headaches

Photo (c) grandriver - Getty Images
Getting through the day without caffeine can be difficult 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. 

According to the study, consumers should be safe from migraines if they drink only one or two caffeinated drinks per day; they say drinking three or more could cause powerful headaches. 

“While some potential triggers -- such as lack of sleep -- may only increase migraine risk, the role of caffeine is particularly complex, because it may trigger an attack but also helps control symptoms,” explained researcher Elizabeth Mostofsky. 

Determining safe levels of caffeine

To see how caffeine had an effect on developing migraines, the researchers analyzed nearly 100 adult participants, all of whom were prone to migraines. 

Over the course of six weeks, participants detailed their migraine frequency and severity, as well as a complete list of any caffeinated beverages they drank -- tea, soda, coffee, energy drinks, etc. To ensure that the findings focused on caffeine’s role in migraines, the researchers also had the participants document all known triggers of migraines, whether that was certain medications or sleeping habits. 

After analyzing the results, the researchers determined that it would take three or more caffeinated drinks for regular caffeine drinkers to experience severe migraine pain; however, just one to two servings of caffeine could incite severe pain for those who don’t drink caffeine regularly. 

The researchers emphasized that migraine sufferers shouldn’t swear off caffeine, but they should be aware that high amounts of it can increase their risk of severe headache pain. 

“Despite the high prevalence of migraine and often debilitating symptoms, effective migraine prevention remains elusive for many patients,” said Dr. Suzanne M. Bertisch. “Interestingly, despite some patients with episodic migraines thinking they need to avoid caffeine, we found that drinking one to two servings/day was not associated with higher risk of headache. More work is needed to confirm these findings, but it is an important first step.” 

Knowing when to cut back on coffee

A recent study sought to answer a question many consumers have about their caffeine intake: how much coffee is too much coffee? 

The researchers found that everyone processes caffeine differently, but it’s important for consumers to trust their bodies. Feeling jittery, nauseous, or irritable are all clues that you’ve overdone it with coffee for the day. The research team recommended not consuming over six cups per day, as that was the threshold where many of the study’s participants were more susceptible to cardiovascular disease. 

“Knowing the limits of what’s good for you and what’s not is imperative,” said researcher Elina Hyppönen. “As with many things, it’s all about moderation; overindulge and your health will pay for it.”

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