Coffee Doesn't Necessarily Trigger Migraines—Unless You Drink This Much a Day

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Coffee lovers rejoice: you can still drink your java without worrying about migraines. According to a new study published this week in the American Journal of Medicine, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) found that caffeine in coffee isn't such a strong migraines trigger after all. It turns out having one or two cups a day is totally fine, and it's when you have three or more where migraines can start to come on.

"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," said Elizabeth Mostofsky, ScD, an investigator in BIDMC's Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit and a member of the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH. "Caffeine's impact depends both on dose and on frequency, but because there have been few prospective studies on the immediate risk of migraine headaches following caffeinated beverage intake, there is limited evidence to formulate dietary recommendations for people with migraines."

Related: These Are the Best and Worst Foods to Eat If You Have a Migraine

The Research

Almost 100 adults, who all experience regular migraines, filled out electronic diaries every morning and evening for at least six weeks. Every day, they'd provide the total number of servings they had of caffeinated coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks, and report on whether or not they had headache symptoms. Participants also provided information on their other personal migraine triggers, which might be related to medications, alcohol, activity, depression, stress, sleep, and menstruation.

How did they measure caffeine consumption? "One serving of caffeine is typically defined as eight ounces or one cup of caffeinated coffee, six ounces of tea, a 12-ounce can of soda and a 2-ounce can of an energy drink," said Mostofsky. "Those servings contain anywhere from 25 to 150 milligrams of caffeine, so we cannot quantify the amount of caffeine that is associated with heightened risk of migraine. However, in this self-matched analysis over only six weeks, each participant's choice and preparation of caffeinated beverages should be fairly consistent."

The Results?

There was no higher risk of headache on the day that participants had one or two cups of caffeinated drinks, like coffee, but there was a higher chance of onset on the days where they had three or more. That seems pretty doable though, right? Those two cups of coffee should keep you safe and energized enough without needing a third or more. However, do take note: for those who aren't regular caffeine drinkers, getting a headache was more probable when having one or two cups, as well, simply because their bodies weren't used to the effects. So, if you never drink coffee, soda, energy drinks, or tea, and you decide to go for two cups off the bat, you might be in trouble.

Read more: Headache Triggers That Are More Myth Than Truth

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