(ORDO NEWS) — Sometimes, giving up your morning cup of coffee can turn into a headache. It also happens that too much coffee per day leads to throbbing pain in the temples. And somehow, a cup of coffee can soothe some types of headaches. So does caffeine cause or cure headaches? Scientists say that all of the above is a correct answer.
This is reported by Live Science.
According to Richard Lipton, professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, you should not forget that coffee is not a simple ingredient, but a psychoactive substance. It has stimulating and vasoconstricting properties, which means that coffee accelerates brain activity and causes narrowing of blood vessels in the brain. In this way, caffeine plays a role in the case of a headache, both as a trigger and as a reliever.
Caffeine for headaches
Caffeine has long been known to relieve headaches and even relieve migraines, so it’s a key ingredient in many headache medications.
“Caffeine is not a pain reliever, but in combination with it, it makes the drugs more effective,” says Lipton.
The caffeine molecule can bind to adenosine receptors located in the human brain and spinal cord. Adenosine is a building block in RNA and the main chemical fuel for the body’s cells, and it can be blocked by caffeine.
Taking the place of adenosine, caffeine blocks the action of molecules. It is known that adenosine slows down nerve activity, and caffeine increases it. The former increases blood flow and dilates blood vessels, while caffeine constricts them. Since some headaches are partly related to vasodilation, the role of caffeine as a vasoconstrictor explains its therapeutic properties in this case.
At the same time, adenosine plays its role in pain transmission: sometimes it suppresses pain signals, and sometimes it stimulates them. In this case, caffeine can really relieve a headache. Also, studies show that caffeine helps pain relievers to be absorbed faster in the body, and their effect can last longer. For example, caffeine with ibuprofen provided better and faster pain relief than ibuprofen alone.
Too little or too much
At the same time, caffeine can also cause headaches. This can happen when people reduce their usual coffee consumption, as well as when they increase it. In the first case, a headache may appear because during the daily use of caffeine, the structure of our brain changes.
“When your receptors are constantly exposed to caffeine, then your brain cannot function properly if there is no caffeine nearby,” the expert emphasizes.
The fact is that constant caffeine consumption increases the number of adenosine receptors in the human brain, making it more sensitive to the effects of adenosine. A headache appears when the body gets used to the narrowing of blood vessels from caffeine, and without it, the same blood vessels suddenly expand, which causes a headache.
The good news is that it is very easy to get rid of such a headache – drink a cup of coffee. Also, such headaches can go away even after giving up the drink, then the number of adenosine receptors in the brain will decrease, and the pain will also go away with them.
An overdose of caffeine can also lead to headaches. As you know, this is one of the most common side effects of caffeine overdose. Despite a huge amount of research, the cause of headaches from excess caffeine remains unclear.
Experts say healthy adults should limit their caffeine intake to 400 milligrams, the equivalent of 4 or 5 cups of coffee a day. It is also emphasized that individual sensitivity to caffeine may vary.
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