Nothing will slow you down faster than a pounding headache. You know the headaches that I’m talking about. Headaches that are so bad you feel the pounding in your head every time your heart beats. When this happens to you, what do you normally do? Reach for the over the counter pain relief, of course. But what do you do if you don’t have any pain reliever handy?
You may not have heard that coffee could actually help cure your headache before it gets out of hand and really ruins your day. This is due to the caffeine content present in each cup of coffee you drink. Conventional wisdom says caffeine can help relieve a headache, and it can also help your body more easily absorb various pain relievers that you take so you can get rid of that headache much more quickly.
How it Works
Now that you know you can drink a cup of coffee to help with your headache, it is important that you understand why before you go pouring pot after pot of coffee down your throat every time you start to feel a little twinge of pain behind your eyes or on your head. There are two main schools of thought on how and why coffee can help you get rid of your headache, and it all comes down to the caffeine.
The first theory attempts to address why a headache happens in the first place to show why coffee, or rather the caffeine in coffee, works to help relieve the pain. Headaches typically occur when the body releases adenosine. This chemical inflames the blood vessels which results in the throbbing sensation and pain. The caffeine found in a typical cup of coffee, however, puts a stop to your body’s production of adenosine and then helps to constrict the blood vessels. By doing so, the pain and throbbing slowly subside and you start to feel normal again.
The second theory is based on several studies of caffeine. The studies have found that caffeine can increase the effectiveness of pain relievers by helping your body absorb the pain medication much faster than you normally would. The theory believes that while not totally effective on its own, coffee can help speed up the process of ridding yourself of that pesky headache if you drink it when you take typical pain medication for your head. Because of this theory, you will find that many pain relievers, both over the counter and prescription, contain caffeine along with their main pain relief ingredients.
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Caffeine in Pain Relievers
As a result of multiple studies that found caffeine helps your body absorb typical pain medication, many drugs contain caffeine along with their other active ingredients. This is why you may feel more awake in addition to being pain free after you take the medication.
Some of the more popular over the counter pain relievers that contain caffeine are:
Many prescription pain medications also use caffeine. Some of the more popular medications are:
These are only a few of the most common drugs that contain caffeine as part of their pain relief mission. Check the label of your pain relief drug or check with your pharmacist to find out if your pain medication contains caffeine.
Types of Headaches
There are many types of headaches out there. They could be sinus headaches, allergy headaches, cold headaches and even migraines. The question becomes, how effective will coffee be against all these different types of headaches. In most cases, the cause of the headache is much the same as all the rest. Even migraines, arguably the worst type of headache around, can be improved with coffee. Your mileage may vary, however, and if you don’t solve the underlying problem that is causing the headache, such as sinus pressure from a cold, they headache could easily return.
You need to remember, the caffeine you find in coffee is a drug, and like so many drugs, it is addictive. If you drink too much coffee or other food and drinks that contain caffeine, your body could become addicted to it. If that happens, your body will become used to having caffeine in its system and will crave it once it has processed and removed the caffeine from your body. This could lead to withdrawal symptoms that make you feel sluggish and even cause a headache instead of put a stop to one.
Typically, when you go through caffeine withdrawal, you will experience several symptoms. They include:
If you drink five or more cups of coffee a day for a long period of time, there is a good chance that your body will become addicted to caffeine and you could experience these symptoms if you suddenly drastically decrease the amount of coffee you drink each day. If this happens, you need to remember that the symptoms are only temporary, and will go away in a few days if you don’t drink anything else with caffeine in it. Of course, the other way to solve it is to drink more coffee or other caffeinated food or beverage. When you do, you will notice that your headache and other symptoms will begin to subside within 30 minutes to an hour after drinking your cup of coffee.
Caffeine has also been known to cause rebound headaches especially when consumed through the use of pain medications. A rebound headache is caused by the overuse of pain medication that, in the end, often has the opposite effect and cause you to have a headache. Unfortunately, when this occurs, using the pain medication or drinking coffee won’t do much to help you. In this case, all you can do is cease drinking coffee and other caffeinated drinks and stop taking the medication that is causing the headache. It may take some time for the medications and caffeine to leave your body, but once they do you will find that your rebound headaches will vanish as well.
Other Caffeine Sources
In addition to coffee and some pain medications, you can find caffeine in many other foods and beverages. So, if you have a headache and no pain reliever or coffee is available, try reaching for one of these food or drinks:
- Cocoa mix
It should be noted that none of these foods and drinks including coffee are ever the best substitute for taking traditional pain relief medication. As we have already discussed, too much caffeine can cause caffeine addiction, limiting the effects that caffeine will have on your body and even causing headaches if you begin consuming less and less coffee.
The Most Benefit
So how do you use coffee to your advantage when you have a headache? First, don’t drink too much of it. Sure, drinking some every day will be ok. But those that drink five cups of coffee or more each day are very likely to become dependent on the caffeine. This means that when you do use it to treat a headache, your body will be so used to it that you won’t see as many benefits.
Second, try to always take your pain medication with a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage. However, before you do this, make sure that our medication isn’t already loaded with the stuff, otherwise you could ingest too much caffeine. You also want to make sure you are properly hydrated before you begin using caffeinated products. Soft drinks and coffee won’t do much to help you quench your thirst and hydrate your body, and in many cases they just make it worse.
Finally, try slowly drinking a cup of coffee with your pain medication. Don’t drink it too fast or drink too much. The goal is to use the coffee to help with the headache while allowing your pain medication to do the heavy lifting. However, if pain medication isn’t around, don’t overcompensate by drinking more coffee. Instead, slowly drink your cup of coffee and allow your body to absorb the caffeine so it slowly relieves your symptoms.
So, the next time you have a headache and don’t have any pain medication handy to knock it out, try pouring yourself a nice, warm cup of joe. Not only will the caffeine in your cup of coffee help you feel more energized and help you get through the day, but it will also help you relieve the pain you are feeling as a result of that nasty headache that is slowing you down. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend you always use coffee as your chosen pain reliever. Too much of anything isn’t good and that includes the caffeine found in coffee. However, if used correctly in place or in conjunction with a good over the counter pain reliever, coffee can quickly put the kibosh on your headache so you can get back to work and play and enjoy your day pain-free.