Drinking Three or More Cups of Coffee a Day May Trigger Migraines

Drinking Three or More Cups of Coffee a Day May Trigger Migraines

While we know dozens of triggers can make our heads pound — booze, dehydration, and bright lights, just to name a few — caffeine has been shown to both treat and trigger headaches. Confusing, right?

In a new study published in the American Journal of Medicine, a group of researchers sought to find out just how much caffeine increases the odds of headaches for long-time migraine sufferers. In the study, most participants had suffered from episodic migraines for more than half their lives, meaning they experienced zero to 14 headache days per month.


woman in kitchen pouring a cup of coffee

Over the six-week study period, their findings showed:

  • Regular caffeine consumers, who had one or two servings of caffeinated beverages (eight ounces of coffee, six ounces of tea, 12 ounces of soda, or two ounces of an energy drink), did not increase headache risk for that day.
  • Three or more servings, on the other hand, did increase the risk of migraine for that day and the following day.
  • For participants who rarely touched a cup of coffee or dared to buy an energy drink, even one or two servings of caffeine increased their chances of having a headache that day.

The researchers accounted for other known migraine triggers including alcohol intake, stress, sleep, activity, and menstrual cycles.

So what does this study mean for you? Whether you experience migraines or not, cutting back on your caffeine consumption may benefit you in the headache department. That said, there are still plenty of benefits to enjoying a cup of joe. For one, coffee delivers many beneficial phytonutrients.


woman dressed in red dress sitting against a window sniffing a cup of coffee

It’s worth noting that the study has its limitations:

1. It’s on the smaller side with 98 participants.

2. Caffeine dose varies by the type of drink and how each individual prepares it (for instance the average cup of coffee clocks in somewhere between 90 and 180 milligrams of caffeine while a 12-ounce can of soda serves up roughly 35 milligrams of caffeine).

3. Because this study only included people who suffer from migraines, we can’t say how many cups will give or take away headaches for non-migraine sufferers.

“How beneficial coffee is for you partly depends on your genetics,” says Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, and founder of Nomadista Nutrition. With nutrigenomic testing, we’ve learned that some people metabolize caffeine more slowly than others. “This may play a role in migraines, too, but research is needed.”

More than 14 percent of Americans 18 or older have experienced migraines, the debilitating effects of which can severely impact quality of life. While we still need larger, more long-term studies to better understand the connection between caffeine and headaches, this study provides potentially helpful information for migraine sufferers.