Drinking three cups of coffee a day increases risk of migraine, study suggests

That extra Flat White might not be a good idea after all

Sarah Young
Thursday 08 August 2019 09:14 BST

Drinking too much coffee is linked with an increased risk of getting a migraine, new research suggests.

In a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, US researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) evaluated the role of caffeinated beverages as a potential trigger of migraines.

Researchers found that for those who experience migraines, one to two servings of caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, cola and tea, were not associated with headaches on that day.

However, drinking three or more were associated with higher odds of a migraine headache on the same day, or the following day, the study suggests.

According to the NHS, a migraine is a “moderate or severe headache felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head”.

Many people also have symptoms such as feeling sick, being sick and increased sensitivity to light or sound.

The Migraine Research Foundation (MRF) states that migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world and affects approximately 1.04 billion adults worldwide.

In the prospective cohort study, 98 adults completed electronic diaries every morning and every evening for at least six weeks.

Every day, they reported the total servings of caffeinated coffee, tea, soft and energy drinks they consumed.

They also filled out twice daily headache reports detailing the onset, duration, intensity and medications used for migraines since the previous diary entry.

Participants also detailed information about other common migraine triggers, including medication use, alcoholic beverage intake, activity levels, depressive symptoms, psychological stress, sleep patterns and menstrual cycles.

Scientists compared an individual’s incidence of migraines on days with caffeinated beverage intake to their incidence of migraines on days when they had no caffeinated drinks.

This eliminated the potential for factors such as sex, age, and other individual demographic, behavioural and environmental factors to confound the data.

The data showed that those who had three caffeinated drinks had a 27 per cent chance of a migraine on that day.

Baseline data indicated that participants typically experienced an average of five headaches per month – and 66 per cent of them usually consumed one to two servings of caffeinated drinks daily.

Lead investigator Elizabeth Mostofsky said the role of caffeine in relation to migraines “is particularly complex, because it may trigger an attack but also helps control symptoms”.

Mostofsky added: “Caffeine’s impact depends both on dose and on frequency, but because there have been few prospective studies on the immediate risk of migraine headaches following caffeinated beverage intake, there is limited evidence to formulate dietary recommendations for people with migraines.”

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

The news follows a recent report from Florida Atlantic University and Harvard Medical School which found that drinking coffee or tea just before bed does not affect quality of sleep.

The study found that while nicotine and alcohol did disrupt sleep duration and efficiency – with a pre-bed cigarette taking 42 minutes off total duration of sleep for insomniacs (a person who is regularly unable to sleep) – caffeine seemed to have no effect.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in