Coffee, caffeine and headaches: Exploring the relationship between Caffeine and headaches


The consumption of coffee has been linked to reduction of headaches. This article seeks to explain some common terms often associated with coffee and headaches i.e. withdrawal headaches, weekend headaches and fasting headaches, and their possible association with caffeine use.

What is meant by the term “withdrawal headaches”?

Caffeine withdrawal headaches are headaches that occur when regular coffee drinkers discontinue coffee intake abruptly. This sudden cessation of regular caffeine consumption may result in headaches among sensitive individuals. The headache generally resolves within a few days or at most one week after consumption has stopped.  In addition, the headache disappears when caffeine consumption is resumed. It is important to note that caffeine withdrawal headaches are not experienced by all individuals; prevalence figures vary between 0.4 per cent and 50 per cent. Caffeine withdrawal headaches can easily be prevented by reducing caffeine consumption gradually in the days before cessation of consumption, for instance in the case of religious fasting or a surgical procedure.

Are “fasting headaches” related to caffeine consumption?

Fasting of food is an important precipitating factor of headaches, generally, and the probability of onset increases directly with the duration of fasting. In fact, some authors have mentioned the use of terms like “hunger” headaches often used when individuals have not had any food for some time and experience headaches associated with their hunger. Fasting headaches are one of the most common forms of secondary headaches, but much remains to be explained about the underlying patho-physiological mechanisms. Hypoglycaemia and caffeine withdrawal are suggested as potential triggers although fasting headaches may occur even when there is no hypoglycaemia and in individuals who do not normally consume coffee. Other factors like abstinence from water, genetic makeup or cultural factors may also contribute to fasting induced headaches.


Are “weekend” headaches related to coffee consumption?

Some individuals may experience headaches particularly on weekend mornings. Different explanations are proposed for this so called weekend headaches. It might be related to the changes in stress levels, or sudden disappearance of stress during the weekend. Changes in the pattern of sleep have also been suggested as an important cause or missing the usual early breakfast on weekend mornings or avoidance of caffeine on weekend mornings.

Does the occurrence of weekend headaches indicate that coffee is addictive?

The common sense use of the term addiction is that regular consumption of a substance becomes irresistible and that using it creates problems. Caffeine use does not fit this profile. Its intake does no harm to the individual or society and caffeine users are not compelled to consume it. Though cessation of regular caffeine use may result in symptoms such as headaches and lethargy, these are very moderate, compared to those induced by drugs of abuse. In addition, they are easily and reliably reversible or wane with time.

In summary, coffee has many beneficial health effects and has been shown to reduce symptoms in certain kinds of headaches. Understanding the science behind some types of headaches that had been hitherto associated with regular coffee intake will help individuals prevent some of these symptoms and fully enjoy the health benefits of coffee consumption.



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