As has been known to physicians for nearly 500 years, caffeine has a special power to relieve migraine headaches. Coffee was one of the earliest pharmacological remedies used against migraines, and caffeine has been a therapeutic ingredient in some modern migraine medicines for decades. In the 1970’s the theory arose that caffeine alleviates migraines by constricting cranial blood vessels. In the late 1990’s, it was discovered that, even though caffeine does constrict these blood vessels, its ability to relieve migraines is unrelated to this action and depends instead on its effects on the neurotransmitter serotonin. It turns out that migraines are not caused by vascular engorgement, but rather by a disorder of the serotonin system. This discovery helped explain why bad moods so often precede or accompany migraines. Caffeine has the power to help restore the balance of the serotonin system, and this is the key to its ability to relieve migraines. One lesson we can learn from this is that it is not always important to know why caffeine does what it does in order to get the benefits of using it. After all, people were using caffeine to treat migraines hundreds of years before anyone had ever heard of the serotonin system. You don’t have to know why it works—but you do have to know how to use it.
Caffeine does more than mask the pain of migraines. It can actually change the course of the migraine headache. Left untreated, migraines typically progress into more intense headache pain and nausea. Many people find that by taking a 200mg caffeine pill at the first sign of migraine, followed by a 100mg supplement in a few hours, and another 100mg after another few hours if necessary, they actually stop the migraine in its tracks and prevent it from developing into a full blown episode. The only way to find out if caffeine can do this for you is to try it for yourself.