There’s a belief that drinking beverages loaded with caffeine can alleviate headaches. Meanwhile, others believe caffeine is more likely to be a headache trigger.
So which is true?
Actually, according to experts, both statements can be correct.
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“Caffeine can both improve headaches but it can also trigger them,” says Andrea D’Ambrosio, a registered dietitian with Dietetic Directions. “Caffeine acts as a ‘vasoconstrictor,’ which means that it causes the blood vessels to narrow and restrict blood flow. This can help alleviate the pain of a headache.”
In fact, if up to 200 mg of caffeine is combined with acetaminophen and aspirin, the pain relieving effect is increased by 40 per cent, according to both the National Headache Foundation.
However, D’Ambrosio adds, caffeine withdrawal can also cause headaches. This often happens when people with high caffeine intake and try to reduce their intake.
Tannins from tea and coffee also have the potential to be triggers for some people, as well as those found in apples and banana, and tannins and sulfites in wine, registered dietitian Tristica Curley of Fueling with Food, says.
Other triggers include chocolate, aged cheese, citrus, alcohol, nightshade vegetables and MSG.
To avoid headaches, D’Ambrosio says it’s important to focus on meal regularity so that you are balancing your meals with sufficient energy.
This means including high-fibre carbohydrates (like whole grain breads, quinoa, barley and lentils), protein and lots of vegetables.
“Magnesium deficiency is also associated with headaches,” D’Ambrosio says. “Magnesium acts as a muscle relaxant and is involved in hundreds of biochemical functions.”
Magnesium also impacts the neurotransmitters in the brain, and when levels are low this can contribute to headaches, she adds.
Foods that are rich in magnesium include pumpkin seeds, spinach, beans and chickpeas, for example.
Another way to help avoid getting headaches may be to follow a vegan diet, Curley suggests.
“Following a vegan diet has been shown to also be an effective intervention,” she says. “This may be due to the fact that meat products have been shown to have inflammatory properties and eliminating these can have an anti-inflammatory effect. Some meats and cheeses are high in tyramine, which has been linked to migraines.”
Other prevention methods that can help with fighting headaches and migraines are 400 mg of riboflavin (vitamin B2) and 400 mg of magnesium.
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