Harvard caffeine study finds the coffee limit for migraine sufferers

A new study out of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health warns against indulging in an extra cup of coffee, at least if you're one of the millions of people who are prone to migraines. The study evaluated caffeine and its effect on migraine-prone individuals, finding that though it won't necessarily trigger migraines, the risk increases considerably after a few cups of coffee.

Caffeine is popularly used as a headache treatment; some over-the-counter painkillers intended for headaches are mixed with caffeine for this reason. However, the newly published study suggests that caffeine may ultimately make things worse, particularly for people who have a low tolerance for the popular stimulant.

The study, which was led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health epidemiology instructor Elizabeth Mostofsky, found that drinking three caffeinated beverages — coffee, tea, soda, or similar — in a single day increased the risk of experiencing a migraine.

The study involved 98 participants who were primarily white, female, and who had an average headache starting age of around 16-years-old. Of note, the team found that migraine sufferers were more likely to develop a headache if they typically only consumed one or two caffeinated drinks a day, but then indulged in three or more of these beverages.

Drinking too much caffeine without a tolerance isn't the only thing that can trigger a severe headache, however. Caffeine drinkers are notably at risk of developing a headache if they consume the stimulant for a long period of time, then suddenly start consuming less of it. The study points toward the need to moderate one's intake and remain consistent, avoiding sudden drastic changes in either direction.