Should Migraine Patients Drink More Coffee? (and a note about aspartame)

The possibility of new dietary guidelines in the USA are bringing up the coffee debate again. For our purposes, the question is – should migraine patients be drinking more coffee? Or, at least, should they feel free to enjoy three or four cups a day?

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which meets every five years, is recommending new guidelines, most of which seem to be catching up with what research has been saying for a long time. Stop stressing over eggs. Eat lots of plants. Cut back on the refined sugars. No surprises there.

Coffee - benefit or risk for migraine patients?But along with eggs, a very specific food was discussed – coffee.

The report, released in February, suggests not only that three to five cups a day (about 400mg of caffeine) may be safe, but that they may be a benefit, in particular fighting cardivascular disease, which is a risk for migraine patients.

The report does say that caffeine intake should be significantly lower for pregnant women, children and adolescents, and that greater amounts of caffeine (such as those found in energy drinks and caffeine supplements) may be harmful for all age groups.

Some things should be noted about the report:

  • Research is showing that there are benefits to drinking a “moderate” amount of coffee.
  • There are potential problems with adding sugar and/or milk to your coffee (the most notable problem is that these add significant calories).
  • When researchers say that a moderate amount of coffee is not “harmful”, they are talking about certain types of harm (premature death, cancer, and certain other types of chronic illness).
  • Interestingly enough, the advisory committee specifically pointed out that “individuals who do not consume caffeinated coffee should not start to consume it for health benefits alone.”
  • Research reviewed did not say that 3-5 cups of coffee was always a good thing, only that the weight of evidence for certain things was in its favour.
  • Some of the research was actually not specifically with coffee, but with other types of caffeine, such as tea. In other words, although the report is mostly talking about coffee, in some cases other sources of caffeine may be better for you than coffee is, and that the caffeine itself may not always be the beneficial ingredient.
  • The committee also admitted that there is a lot of research to be done regarding the effects of coffee/caffeine. Why does it help in certain cases? Is it contributing to sleep problems, and thus indirectly causing other health issues? What is its long term effect on depression?

The biggest concerns when it comes to headache and migraine and coffee – more specifically, caffeine – is withdrawal. This includes not having caffeine at the same time each day (for example, if you sleep in on weekends) or having more or less depending on the day. That’s way the best advice, in the opinion of this author, has been to keep caffeine intake low and consistent.

Another important thing to remember is that many of the benefits of coffee are small, and may be better obtained from other sources, such as fruit and vegetables.

The connection between headache or migraine and caffeine was not examined in this report. However, because migraine patients do tend to be more sensitive to quantities and changes, it is probably still a good idea for doctors to recommend that patients keep their caffeine intake low, and consistent. Improving your diet in general will probably do far more good than increasing your coffee drinking.

And remember, with or without migraine, the study recommends avoiding large amounts of caffeine (don’t forget that caffeine that may be in your medication!), and being cautious about adding things to your coffee or tea.

And a note about aspartame

Interestingly enough, migraine did come up in this report, in the section about aspartame. They committee itself did not come to a conclusion about the connection between aspartame and migraine because they felt that not enough large studies had been done. However, they did point to studies which showed an increase in migraine attacks with aspartame consumption. The committee’s educated guess is that a small subset of the population may be susceptible to aspartame-induced headaches.

So if you’re already drinking coffee, you might want to add aspartame to the things you’re not adding to it.

For more information:


10 Highlights from the past 3 Months (March 2015 edition)

It’s time to look back over the last three months to see which posts have been your favourites! So here they are, most popular posts first.

As we have been doing lately, we have three posts in bold which were the most popular on Facebook.

By the way, thanks to all of you who take the time to share articles and podcasts with others, especially when there is something that will be of particular interest to someone. We can’t fight migraine alone – let’s keep the community conversation going!

  1. Why this Essential Oil may help, but won’t ever be popular
  2. The Best Medication for Migraine? The AHS Reports
  3. A Migraine Trigger You Shouldn’t Ignore
  4. Whatever Happened to Levadex?
  5. Fake Supplements at Major US Retailers?
  6. New Migraine Research – MRF Announces Grants (podcast)
  7. Whatever Happened to Lasmiditan?
  8. Chicken Tikka Masala for Migraine?
  9. Migraine and Bell’s Palsy
  10. Have You Tried the Icekap for Migraine?

Now You can Fight Weather related Migraine with the Migraine Barometer

Yes – great news! The Migraine Barometer is back!

If you’ve followed this site for the past few years, you know that we have had frequent supply problems with the Migraine Barometer, and it’s been unavailable for months at a time. But for the time being it is available again, and you can order it here.

The Migraine Barometer

After many years of research, hearing your stories, and – personal experience – I know that changes in the weather trigger migraine attacks in many people. Sometimes severe, difficult to treat, attacks.

One tool that we’ve used to identify and fight migraine attacks that tend to come with barometric pressure changes is to track those changes with this electronic barometer.

You can read more about why this barometer is unique right here, but in summary it actually charts changes in pressure, so that you can see how fast the weather is changing. This will help you identify what is triggering your weather-related attacks.

The barometer can even be set to sound an alarm if the weather is changing too quickly, so that you can take preventative measures and stop the migraine attack before it starts.

Thanks to those who have taken the time to email to let me know how much the barometer has helped them. I’m glad to be able to offer it again.

Again, read more about the Migraine Barometer here, and you can find the order page here.


Have You Tried the Icekap for Migraine?

Sometimes the most simple solutions are the best. That’s the theory behind the Icekap, a heat/cold therapy for migraine that keeps things simple.Icekap

Cold and heat are common and very effective migraine treatments, if used properly (and what is “proper” may vary from person to person). The challenge, however, is getting the right temperature to the right part of the body with a minimum of mess and stress.

We’ve seen caps to provide cool temperature for migraine before. The Icekap has a number of positives combined into a simple product.

First, there’s the Icekap itself – adjustable, easy to put on, and with a nice little hole for those with pony tails. :)

Next, the ice packs, which go into the Icekap. Keep them cool – swap them out and keep the Icekap cool.

Wait! The “ice packs” can also be “heat packs”. Just stick them in the microwave or cover them with hot water.

Icekap - side viewNow because the Icekap is “adjustable”, it can also provide pressure therapy, a time-honoured way to lessen migraine pain.

And there’s one bonus. You can also purchase some essential oil, especially for migraine, to use along with the Icekap.

Cooling down can also help with insomnia, a common problem for migraine patients.

I’ve seen a lot of products like this over the years, but what I’ve seen so far from the Icekap is excellent. And this from a small start-up in Canada. This is why patients, not just experts, hold the key to fighting migraine.

Have you tried the Icekap? How have you used it? How has it helped the most?

Here’s a quick video with more information.


Can this Procedure Teach Your Body to avoid Migraine?

No one really wants to be tied to taking a pill for the rest of their lives, or paying for a treatment every week for years and years. There are some treatments that are emerging which may lead to longer term solutions.

Back in 2010, we talked about a review that was published in the journal Headache about nerve blocks and trigger point injections. The authors of the study called for more research to be done in this very promising area of research.

You’ll be glad to hear that the research is continuing. One aspect of this type of treatment is injections in the area of the sphenopalatine ganglion. The sphenopalatine ganglion is a nerve cluster behind the nose, that has been related to migraine.

Actually, the sphenopalatine ganglion is a key player in cluster headache, and so a fair bit of research has been done specifically for cluster.
Society of Interventional Radiology
Earlier this month, at the Society of Interventional Radiology‘s annual meeting, researchers reported on a study on image guided intranasal sphenopalatine ganglion blocks. Here’s how it works.

The treatment is “minimally invasive”. There are no cuts, needles, or stitches. A small tube is inserted in the nose and lidocaine is administered to the nerve cluster. That’s it.

In the study, patients averaged headache pain averaging 8.25 out of 10. After 30 days, the average had dropped to 5.25.

A miracle cure? Certainly not. But let’s look closer.

For the next month, patients found their pain dropped by 36%. But that’s not all. 88% used less – or even no – migraine medication over that month.

What’s next? The researchers want to know how patients are doing after 6 months.

For such a preliminary study, these are hopeful results. What if the procedure was improved? The medication was adjusted? Would there be a way to improve things for months – a year – five years – ?

If you have chronic migraine, imagine if you could cut your medication in half, while also cutting your pain in half.

Sphenopalatine ganglion blocks remain an important area of research, not only for cluster, but for migraine as well.

For more information: