No Caffeine, No Migraines

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Mrs. Homegrown here:

A while back I posted about my coffee addiction and search for coffee alternatives. Again, thank you so much for all of your suggestions–I’ve enjoyed them.

As nothing is more tedious than listening to other people rattle on about their health concerns, I’m going to try not to belabor this post. All I have is a simple message, and that is if you are a chronic migraine sufferer, you may want to consider cutting caffeine from your daily diet.

Of course this is hard to do, as most migraineurs live in an intimate tango with caffeine. All I have to say is that I’ve had migraines all my life, and they were becoming more frequent. My first impulse was to attribute them to other causes, but my gut told me to try caffeine. I tapered off caffeine over the course of a month, then went totally clean for a couple of weeks, after which I assumed I was “clean.” (That’s when I wrote that last post–in retrospect I’m amused by its cheery outlook. I was about to get slammed with true withdrawal)

You see, the headaches did not stop. They actually got worse. I wondered if my theory was wrong. And, of course, I really wanted caffeine whenever my head started hurting. That craving told me perhaps I was still in withdrawal. So I persevered, for perhaps two months of total abstinence and complete misery, and then the headaches stopped. Just stopped. It was like magic.

The lesson here is that it takes a long time for your body to adjust to the lack of caffeine, so you’ve got to be patient.

Since then, I’ve allowed a little caffeine back in my life. It seems important for me to not take it in the morning, because that’s where the habit is most strong, but I will have green tea or iced tea or decaf in the afternoon sometimes, and I get away with it. However, it is a slippery slope. While traveling this Christmas I got cocky and started playing with fire–drinking the straight java–and I ended up with my first migraine in a long time. That just served to confirm my theory. Overall, I’d say my migraines have been reduced by 80 or 90 percent.

Everyone is different, and migraines are a complex phenomena. This may not work for you, but it has worked well for me, so I just had to put it out there. As much as I loved my coffee, it wasn’t worth the pain.

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40 Comments

  1. I had exactly the same experience, with a little shorter withdrawal time. I had seen some websites proposing a link between caffeine and migraine, and it just makes too much sense…
    http://www.caffeineandmigraine.com/introduction.html

    I had read an article that suggested another alternative – low, regular “doses” to keep you from ever hitting withdrawal – but it sounded to me like an addict’s argument!

  2. I gave up caffeine back in 85, and I am the only one of my immediate family who does not suffer from migraines. It is worth noting that Bayer aspirin contains caffeine and claims (I believe correctly) to deal with headaches better than other pain relievers, but for an obvious reason: Many headaches in our modern lives are caused by caffeine withdrawal, so adding caffeine back helps relieve such headaches. For myself I will keep on enjoying my caffeine free life, which happens to be almost entirely free of headaches..

  3. I’ve been blessed with this malady as well. Dr. Weil recommends switching to green tea and using coffee as a natural remedy at the onset of a migraine. This actually works fairly well for low grade migraines. I went off of all coffee for 6 months and caffine for a year and there was no noticable difference in the frequency or intensity of the migraines.

    I’ve read a lot of books through the years and searched this topic online and the best research I’ve found is –
    http://www.tuliv.com/migraine-research.aspx

    I used their products for about a year. For some people the products are the answer in my case they helped but not enough to inspire me to keep taking them. But you might find their research very helpful. Feel free to email me.

  4. One of the early researchers on the effects of LSD found that some significant percentage of his study group were permanently cured of migraines by a single clinical dose trip. (Which had nothing to do with whatever he was measuring — just a nice surprise). I think they wanted to pursue it with more studies, but prohibition descended. Just a thought. How’s that Morning Glory patch coming along?

  5. Hello, my name is Kevin, and I’ve been clean for 8 days. A period of decaf prior to cold turkey has seemed to help me not miss it..much..this past week and change. I hope the withdrawal doesn’t kick in like yours…
    Kudos.

  6. I did not give up caffeine, but I did massively hydrate. Once I embarked on this, it was, at minimum, 12 ounces per hour, every waking hour. 20 years now without a migraine. I suppose this fits into different people, different solutions. I did consult with more than one doctor, all basically saying that it’s possible that I flushed out whatever it was that caused the migraine. I have no idea, but it worked.

    I pee a lot though.

  7. I have migraines and periodically try to kick caffeine – as A Kitchen Garden in Kihei Maui said – if you aren’t regularly drinking coffee, you can use the caffeine for medicinal relief.

    Right now – I’m three weeks off coffee. And I have two words for you – GRAIN COFFEE – it is saving my life! It’s that grain stuff that you referred to earlier. It has the substance of a cup of coffee, which is pretty freakin’ amazing. I’m definitely diggin’ the stuff. Seriously, go get some!

  8. I have had migraines for years. I cut caffeine from my diet in 1999 (because of another health condition) and did find that my migraines were reduced somewhat. After I had unpleasant side effects from some of the usual migraine preventatives, I discussed the use of butterbur (used in Europe for migraine prevention) with my neurologist. I have been taking a refined form of butterbur (brandname “Petadolex”) for about 2 years and I definitely have fewer headaches now. I also stay away from caffeine.

  9. I have a coffee problem as well, though it doesn’t involve headaches but rather the overwhelming feeling of needing to projectile vomit from the moment I finish the cup until I go to bed that night. It doesn’t happen every time I drink coffee, but often enough that I had to give it up last week.

  10. Another migraine sufferer, I sympathize with your difficulties getting off, and staying off, caffeine. Once I went off coffee cold turkey and had an almost daily headache for six weeks. Not fun!

    My current theory is that anything that irritates my gut (physically or immunologically) will eventually cause a chronic migraine. Several years ago, it seemed like I was getting a migraine every time I ate. The problems turned out to be gluten and dairy, and going gluten and dairy free has helped a lot with the headaches. However, I started drinking green tea last summer and now find myself having to drink a little more to stave off migraines. I could feel all along how the tea was negatively impacting my gut, but I chose to ignore this reaction because I love tea so much. (Besides, green tea is good for you, right?)

    Anyway, I wonder if the key to these prolonged withdrawal reactions is that (1) the gut is damaged and requires weeks to heal completely once all the irritants are withdrawn, and (2) at the same time, the however-small amount of caffeine that was exerting an anti-migraine effect has been withdrawn. If so, hastening recovery may be less a matter of detoxing and more a matter of healing the gut.

  11. For about four years on and off I would have migraines. In 1985, I had a migraine for ten days with a little relief for three days in the midst of ten. One day as I dragged myself to the kitchen for a little sustenance, I paused before I cut the cheese and suddenly had an epiphany–cheese was the culprit. I was just eating cheese and crackers, cheese and scrambled eggs, cheese and apples as I slept and staggered through the days and nights, sleeping days and holding my head at nights, all the time trying not to vomit. That day, I stood at the stove and forced myself to cook/heat some greens. I ate everything I could stuff into myself and drank quarts of water, all in the effort to get rid of the concentration of whatever was possessing me. I had to force myself to stand and cook. The headache and nausea seemed to lessen with each bite and each swallow of water, or so I perceived. No more migraines, ever, after that.

    I am the worst addict when it comes to cheese, caffeine (Cokes), and chocolate. I fight all three continually.

    A year ago, because I was drinking too many Cokes and feeling lethargic if I tried not to drink them, and achy and had a headache, I decided a new trick. I bought Cokes with and without caffeine.

    On day one I drank my normal number of Cokes all day…except for the one around 10 at night. I had caffeine free Coke. The next day–two, I drank cokes w/caffeine all day until around 5 pm when I had caffeine free…same for the 10 pm coke.

    The next day–three, I cut back at noon to the caffeine free. For these several days, I also craved Coke less. The final day, I had a coke in the morning and no more, just caffeine free the rest of the day. I dreaded the next morning without any caffeine to start the day. I had no craving or lethargy all day. No headaches, no nothing.

    While you may think coffee caffeine is worse, I have no idea since I have only had two cups of coffee in my whole life. I had a pms and in the sun headache when my father and I were fishing when I was 14. He insisted I drink coffee. I did. It worked. The next time was 20 years later when I had no sleep and was driving my three small children home from a trip. I drank coffee because I was seeing headlights doubled. Coffee worked.

    Now, if I ever have the funny feeling and strange vision problems I get several days before a migraine, I cut back on the cheese, eliminate it, and drink lots of water.

    Too much chocolate makes me tremble visibly. I cannot sleep for the mind racing and the body trembling.

    I am so grateful I never even liked the taste of coffee! I am especially grateful that I don’t drink or smoke since I would probably become addicted to both.

  12. I don’t remember having bad withdrawal. I definitely have fewer migraines since quitting caffeine. According to a medical textbook from a friend of mine who’s a nurse, there may be several possible foods that are triggers for migraines, including fermented foods (dang it!).

    It’s worth noting that doctors advise avoiding caffeine if you have high blood pressure, or if you’re worried about getting high blood pressure. That’s another positive benefit of quitting.

    Re: caffeine in aspirin and “pain relievers”, that seems unethical. I’m amazed that they get away with that. It’s a short term remedy to something that could be better treated by advising people to quit caffeine, not supplying caffeine to treat their withdrawals.

  13. Whoo! The stories about the foods we love the most! I was a big black tee drinker when a breast cyst was discovered. Quiting the caffeine was the cure! Of course, I spent days feeling like I was standing outside my body watching myself vibrate. First went decaf, then herbal. Now none of the above. Never a big soda drinker. Do probably eat too much cheese, but so far no side effects. Try to stay awayfrom the heavy duty chocolate, as well as the milk, and I’m already gluten free. Good health and well being worth it all!

  14. I just got off caffeine. I’ve been “clean” for 3 weeks. The headaches are gone, but I’ve been experiencing a lot of anxiety since coming off. Anyone else experienced this?

  15. I Drank coffee heavily during finals week of college and when I went a day without it I had a headache so bad I was nauseous.

    I now drink tea instead of coffee, and its a pretty good alternative.

  16. I’m also someone who drinks tea instead of coffee now, and I rarely get migraines anymore. For me they’re almost always a result of a combination of hormones (right before my period starts) and upper neck/shoulder strain. Oh, and the other time was from watching Avatar in 3D. I threw up twice in the theater and then spent the day in bed with the worst migraine I’ve had in years!

    I still have to watch the amount of caffeine I get from tea, but I can drink a pot or so in the morning and sleep fine–but I can’t have even ONE cup of coffee now. Not even decaf. The difference is amazing to me, so for me I know it’s not just that it’s caffeine, or even the amount. There must be something else in coffee that makes it a problem for me.

    Also, when I was pregnant I couldn’t even drink caffeinated tea–at ALL. My doctor said sensitivity to caffeine during pregnancy is pretty common, although I’d never heard that before.

  17. Anon: It know it’s not funny at all, but I have to laugh at the idea of you throwing up in Avatar 3-D. A sensible response, really. But seriously, I avoid 3-D movies because just thinking about them gives me a headache. I still shudder when I remember that Johnny Depp Willie Wonka movie. I saw it in Imax, and had to sit close. The misery! But I made it home before I threw up.

    General thoughts:

    All I can say about caffeie, having heard your response, and those of others, and knowing myself, is that it is highly individual, but also highly volatile. It just makes sense to me now for anyone with recurrent headaches to get off caffeine, and then experiment to see what their limits are. In your case, coffee itself was the problem. I seem to have a general dosage I should not exceed. It’s interesting.

  18. In your search for coffee alternatives did you come across this one: roasted (mature dried) okra seeds? A friend in Alabama came across the idea when reading about the Civil War. He said that because many in the South were cut off from getting coffee (Union blockade) they searched for alternatives and came up with okra seeds. You use mature dried seeds and slowly roast them. Then grind them up and you get a reasonable substitute. And you can grow it in your own backyard!

  19. I just recently found out that too much caffeine can indeed cause headache and migraine. Unfortunately, I still need caffeine to make myself awake all throughout the day. So since I can’t stay away with caffeine, I choose to do some relaxation techniques to alleviate pain,. If not, then medications are there to do the rescue.

  20. i cant have caffeine…. i havnt had it since i was five… but i get atleast one migrain every week so sorry but no caffine = no migrain is a load of bull poo

  21. I have came to italy since 2 years ago.and my migrain became worse and worse…5-6 times a week!!!
    i thought it is becouse of weather,weather is completly different from my country….
    after months with terrible migrain(even i can say daily migrain)
    5 days ago i decided to delete coffee from my life…coffe in italy is so so strong(coffe in moca).now i sometimes drink nescafe..fortunately i get rid of migrain with deleting caffee.now 5 days without migrain!! .life is really beautiful without headache and migrain;)

  22. I suffered migraine’s since I started drinking caffeinated beverages at about 13yo….I suffered until 17 with poor sleep, halo migraine’s, 4 day headache afterward and then the whole cycle would start again. My schooling was effected, my quality of life sucked. I didnt actually realize i was extra sensitive to caffeine until about 22yo when I had a couple of cans of Coke and it all started again. But here is the kicker……My Mother suffered migraines virtually all her short life, a cycle of coffee in the morning (all day really), migraine all day, medication all day, tea before bed, hard core sleeping medication at night……she died at age 60. For a lot of people it could be another trigger, but if you suffer from these terrible migraines just try excluding ALL caffeine from your diet and that includes soda drinks, “energy” drinks, cakes with coffee added, decaf which still has caffeine in it, coffee, tea and also be careful of “herbal” tea unless it actually say’s “caffeine free” dont trust it hasnt got caffeine in it. Medications also are loaded with caffeine so watch them too.My oldest brother also cant consume any caffeinated anything. Chocolate however doesnt have caffeine in it unless its been added. its a very slightly different molecular structure…. oh.. it takes about 8 days for the caffeine addiction to let you go.

  23. For the past 18 months I have suffered regular migraines, for instance this week I’ve had 6!!! Not funny and I don’t know what to do. At home I drink decaf tea and very occasionally decaf coffee. So what else is there? I rarely drink alcohol.

    A

    • I’m so sorry, Ann. That’s horrible. I don’t know what to say. Seems like since everyone is different, the solution will vary from person to person. I’m certainly no expert and am not qualified to give medicaladvice. I just wanted to share that cutting caffeine helped a lot for me. It doesn’t seem to be one of your triggers, though.

      I hope you’ve seen a doctor? I mean, I assume you have some kind of migraine medication if you’re having six a week, or you wouldn’t be functional. If not, I really recommend you do go ASAP. The migraine meds really help, and of course you should be checked out.

      In terms of folksy, lifestyle changes which might help, I think you should look at the last 18 months and consider any changes you’ve made in diet or stress or schedule or environment. For instance, one of my other triggers is sleep. Sleeping too much, or too little, is a problem. I’ve learned egular hours are important for me. Little adjustments like that can make a big difference.

    • I have had migraines for 20 years and after reading a website suggesting caffeine may be the cause decided to give it a try! Giving up coffee and redbull ‘cold turkey’, probably wasnt the best idea. Extreme migraine for 13 days, using meds/imigran daily. Day 14 was heaven waking with no pain..no medication..I have been off caffeine including decaf coffee which does still have caffeine in it, for 4 weeks now and I am finaly feeling great! I drink rooibus tea and try to drink more water! No going back as I could not stand the withdrawal ever again!

  24. i suffered constant migraine for 13 weeks, was rushed for a mri (the dr thought it was a tumor) the neurologist said it was all down to caffeine, and had to stop all caffeine at once had 5 days of withdrawal. but you don’t realize how many things contain it. it’s not just tea, coffee and fizzy drinks. some medication has it in as well like pain killers. citrus things can also cause migraines. i have been off caffine now for over 2 years and (fingers crossed) i have not had a migraine since. have had a couple of headaches when i’ve either eaten or drank something that a shouldn’t have. (like sweets or chocolate)

  25. Migraines have different triggers in different people.

    I didn’t get my first migraine until after I cut caffeine out of my diet (among other things) simply for better health.

  26. Migraines are terrible! I’ve had them for 18 years. When I first got them, I went on the “migraine diet” which you could find by googling. And what it does is you eliminate ALL foods that could be possible triggers for migranuers and then you slowly reintroduce. That’s a good way you can learn what your triggers are. Mine are pine nuts & sometimes walnuts, too much chocolate, certain types of alcohol, not drinking enough water, hotdogs (nitrates) and definately caffeine. Not to mention humidity and the air right before it rains causes a bad headache for me. If you are getting regular migraines, you should see a headache specialist for help. Learning how to manage your headaches is the key. If you are a person with migraines, this is something you will always have on and off in life, so it’s good to know what triggers them for you and how to help yourself when you get one. Different things work for different people.

  27. Headaches/migraines, head pressure & dull deep pain, continuous…. caffeine intake daily or stop a few days or even several weeks, no change! Very strong pain killers slightly reduce the pain…… Pain sets in about noon, peaks after a few hours, sustained till night time. The mind has to fight the fog hard to keep a clear mind. Sleep longer, more pain, 4 hours sleep makes it tolerable (with meds). Over 15 years of tests, meds, MRI etc, etc… almost lost kidney function due to the pain killers. What is the cause? CAFFEINE!!! It takes 2 months to clear. When you stop ALL caffeine intakes, pain will peak at about one month, and i mean real, real pain. Dull AND sharp pain before it starts to reduce.
    Wow, what a nice feeling after 2 months, a clear sharp mind, & happier outlook. Found I can tolerate one cup max decaf per day. Ya, really love that coffee….. just not the caffeine….

    • It is true in my experience, also, that it takes about 2 months to really kick caffeine. I recently did it again, after some backsliding since the last post. I had headaches, but the most notable symptom this time was brain fog, lack of creativity and motivation. It took at least two months, maybe more, for my mental state to stabilize. Caffeine is a serious drug!

      I also allow myself a cup of decaf a day, or a cup of green tea, which has about the same amount of caffeine. But I try not to do this every day, or I fear I will grow to require even that amount of a fix. I do miss my coffee.

  28. I wanted to reply as my experience is exact opposite. Growing up I NEVER had caffeinne as I was a very picky eater. Since age 11 I have suffered from terrible migraines and was convinced there would never be releif. At age 21 I began to drink tea in the morning and was amazed how clear my head felt every day at work despite encountering my normal triggers.

    My issues with migraines were fixed by starting tea. I tested not drinking tea one morning and by the evening I was in bed with the migraine – and was like that for 2+ days. With regular tea consumption I barely even get a headache until I miss my tea!

  29. I know this is an old post, but thank you! I’ve been off full caff coffee for about 3 weeks (maybe 4?) with a tiny bit of decaf coffee sometimes, and so many migraines. 2 months is scary, but will help me to hang in there a little longer.

    • There are many different types of headaches from caffeine. Many people are referring to them as migraines and that may be misleading. Headaches can be sharp to dull, front sides to back and neck with varying intensity. Some are from caffeine but others may be caused by different sources. For me, caffeine is very bad and causes a string of issues. Dull front sides pain & brain fog. Pain is also present in the neck, and sleeping is a problem in that the head cannot be turned or their will be greater neck pain. Pain sets in by about noon, with brain fog shortly afterwards. If pain starts by 10am, I take several strong pain killers and if that does not work, take a migraine med. Pain will reduce by night time. Starts the cycle again the following day. Stopping caffeine (totally, no decaf) will create a change in the headache pain and will become sharper. Mine peaked at about a month, taking another month to totally clear. Drinking several tablespoons of real coffee will trigger the headaches but not immediately. Usually takes one to two weeks to start. That means if someone slipped me a real coffee instead of a decaf, I will not know the source. I can tolerate a single decaf per day, just beware that some coffee beans (dragon****) have 2 to 3 times more caffeine so that the decaf from this bean may contain to much caffeine. One decaf that is good is instant “Nescafe Gold Blend Decaff” at least the one batch I got. If caffeine is your source for headaches, you will need to determine the maximum amount of caffeine you can tolerate per day. And this will take months to figure out.

    • This lines up with my experience. Esp. the part about the headaches sneaking back after caffeine indulgence (in my case, it is indulgence, not error–I give in to temptation. I’ve done that this week and will pay the price soon.) It’s easy to be in denial when the headaches come a week or so later. And my maintenance dose is similar– one cup of decaf or a green tea.

    • It sounds harsh, but you might want to cut even the decaf, at least during this “detox” period–that little bit of caffeine might be dragging things out. After you stabilize you might be able to have a decaf a day, as I was discussing below with Jim. Good luck!

  30. Ugh, I was afraid you’d say that! Am I basically derailed and will the detox be like starting all over?

    Headaches woke me up the last 2 nights. The caffeine issues led to me using too much migraine meds (maybe) so it looks like I have Medication Overuse Headaches too.

    Yay.

    • I would not take ANY caffeine intake until after several months. IF caffeine is your source for headaches, you need to eliminate all sources. This includes real chocolates, most teas (except mulberry leaf tea), and be careful of the pain meds that they do not contain caffeine. After your headaches are gone, then you can try decaf. But not all decafs are equal, some may still have a lot of caffeine. As mentioned earlier, not all coffee beans have the same amount of caffeine content. Worse, is that many people may not respond with a headache as soon as you drink a (decaf)coffee, instead it may take days or even 1 to 2 weeks as in my case. So when you start to drink decaf, have a cup and wait up to several weeks before you have the second cup……. There is also decaf tea, but have not seen decaf chocolates……darn….. Plants use Caffeine as a toxin to deter/kill leaf eaters and as a reward method for pollinators.

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