Does Coffee Actually Help with Headaches?

Does Coffee Actually Help with Headaches?

Jake Bonneman Jake Bonneman
4 minutes of coffee drinking

We've all been there. You're at work, plodding along, when all of a sudden you feel a throbbing in your temples. Or maybe you wake up with a start, feeling like someone just shot a nail gun into your skull.

 

Or, perhaps someone was watching Friends in the next room and you accidentally heard Ross speak—and now you've got a full-blown migraine.

 

(They call that Schwimmer's Ear.)

 

Either way, the point is, you've got a headache, and you need relief fast.

 

While your first instinct is probably to reach for the Tylenol, you might want to consider grabbing a cup of coffee instead—well, maybe reach for both.

 

Everyone's physiology is different and coffee may or may not help your particular headache. However, many people find that coffee can provide some relief from headaches, particularly tension headaches and migraines.

 

Why does coffee help headaches? Why, it's the caffeine, of course.

 

Caffeine isn't just a tried and true method for combating fatigue and being more productive—it can be pretty effective in treating some types of headaches, too.

 

But how exactly does coffee help with headaches?

The Science

 

Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it constricts blood vessels. This can help to alleviate headaches by reducing inflammation and decreasing blood flow to the affected area.

 

But here's the thing: There's more to it than that:

 

As this article from Harvard Medical School points out, "Caffeine tends to constrict blood vessels, which would seem to cause pain by cutting off blood flow. But mid-migraine, caffeine may relieve pain by returning enlarged and painfully distorted arteries back to their pain-free state." (But hey, what do they know.)

 

In other words, the caffeine in coffee may help to reverse the effects of migraines by returning blood vessels to their normal size and function.

 

Not all headaches are created equal, however, and not all respond to coffee in the same way. Tension headaches, for example, are caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck. These contractions can be the result of stress, poor posture, or eye strain.

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Migraines, on the other hand, are caused by changes in blood vessels and nerve function in the brain. These changes can be triggered by things like stress, hormonal changes, certain foods and beverages, and staring endlessly into what's essentially 7 million tiny light bulbs at 11 o'clock at night (A.K.A. your laptop screen).

 

So, if you're suffering from a tension headache, the caffeine in coffee may help to relieve muscle tension and pain. If you're dealing with a migraine, however, the jury is still out on whether or not coffee is effective.

 

While the caffeine in coffee may not help every type of headache, it is definitely worth a try if you're looking for relief from tension headaches or migraines. And of course, caffeine can also help to increase alertness and energy levels, which can obviously be pretty beneficial if you're feeling sluggish and fatigued.

 

The Bottom Line

 

If you're dealing with a headache, coffee may be worth a try. Caffeine can help to constrict blood vessels and reduce inflammation, which can provide relief from tension headaches and migraines. Of course, everyone's physiology is different, so coffee may or may not help your particular headache. But it's definitely worth a try!

 

Coffee isn't a cure-all for headaches, but it can certainly help to provide some relief. (And it tastes pretty damn good, too.) It can even possibly help with hangovers.

 

So next time you're feeling the pain, reach for another cup of joe. In fact, go ahead and reach for another cup of joe even if you're not in agonizing pain. Hey, it just might help to prevent a headache from developing in the first place. Feel free to use that as an excuse.


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