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Too many caffeinated beverages may increase the risk of having a migraine attack. Getty Images
  • Drinking too many caffeinated beverages may put you at more risk for developing a migraine attack.
  • Migraine affects 10 percent of the population worldwide.
  • Women are more likely to develop migraine than men.
  • Caffeine isn’t all bad. It’s been shown to dilate blood vessels and help lessen symptoms of other types of headaches.

If you have periodic migraine attacks but love coffee, a new study may help you enjoy your morning cup of joe while avoiding them.

A new study in the American Journal of Medicine finds that drinking three or more servings of caffeinated beverages a day is associated with the onset of a migraine attack on or the following day in people who experience episodic migraine.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see one to two servings was not associated with the odds of having a migraine headache and it was three or more servings that lead to a migraine on that day or on the following day,” lead investigator Elizabeth Mostofsky, ScD, in the cardiovascular epidemiology research unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the department of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, told Healthline.

Despite its reputation as a necessary evil, coffee is actually healthy. It’s been linked to improved cognitive function, reduced cancer risk, and even living longer.

“The other thing that’s particularly interesting is that the effect of caffeine is likely to be affected by both the dose and the frequency,” Mostofsky said.

Migraine affects about 1 in 10 people worldwide, according to recent research. It affects women roughly twice as often it does men.

“About 9 percent of men and 16 percent of women suffer from migraine, and the tendency for migraine can run in families,” said Dr. Julia Jones, a neurologist at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas and not associated with the study.

“Everyday things can trigger migraine headaches, like certain foods or drinks, stress, too much or too little sleep, hormones, or even things like bright lights, hunger, and smells,” Jones said.

Mostofsky and her team analyzed information from 98 adults who experience episodic migraine.

“Episodic migraine is characterized by those who have up to 14 headaches days per month. However, chronic migraine would involve 15 or more days per month,” Jones said.

The participants completed an electronic diary twice a day for six weeks. They reported their caffeinated beverage intake, certain lifestyle factors, and the timing and characteristics of any migraine attacks.

Researchers then compared the likelihood of migraine attacks on days the participants drank caffeinated beverages to the days they didn’t.

“We were simultaneously looking at exposures like sleep habits, weather, physical activity. We collected a lot of information from these individuals, and in this particular study looking at caffeinated beverages and the immediate risk of migraine, what we were able to do by collecting these other lifestyle factors is to say, even accounting for all other factors, we’re still seeing this higher odds of migraine headache with three or more servings of caffeine,” Mostofsky explained.

The findings suggest the effect of caffeinated drinks on migraine attack risk was only apparent for three or more servings on that day.

People with episodic migraine didn’t experience a higher risk for a migraine attack when consuming one to two caffeinated beverages a day.

When pain is caused by blood vessels in the brain swelling (a condition called vasodilation), caffeine could help by making the blood vessels constrict, reducing the swelling.

Intravenous (IV) caffeine has even been used in emergency rooms for rapid relief of severe migraine symptoms.

Caffeine also gives a boost to many headache remedies. Whether its aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen, these medications work faster, better, and keep the pain away longer when combined with caffeine.

“That’s absolutely why it’s such a fascinating exposure to evaluate, because caffeine is associated with both benefits and with harm. Caffeine is actually in a lot of the medications that are used to treat migraine headaches, and it all comes back to the dose and the frequency of that exposure to the caffeine,” Mostofsky said.

She cautions that the main thing to note is “this was a study conducted among participants who have episodic migraines, so we can’t generalize it to say what would happen in people who don’t have migraine headaches.”

Mostofsky points out they weren’t saying drinking three cups of coffee will definitely trigger a migraine attack.

“We’re saying that among participants with episodic migraine, we see evidence that one to two servings of caffeinated beverages was not associated with headache on that or the following day,” she explained.

“But three or more caffeinated drinks was associated with higher odds of a migraine headache on that day and the following day,” she said.

Migraine affects about 10 percent of people worldwide. Women are much more likely to have the condition.

Recent research finds that in people who have episodic migraine, drinking more than two servings of caffeinated drinks a day is strongly associated with having a migraine attack.

But researchers also say that two or less caffeine drinks a day didn’t increase the odds of experiencing a migraine attack in this population.