Migraines and Caffeine

Headaches are among the most common symptoms of detoxification. The most severe kinds of headaches, migraines, affect about twelve percent of the population (28 million people). The mainstream medical community identifies migraine as a neurological disorder in itself. However, I think that migraines, like normal headaches, are actually a consequence of the body’s attempt to heal itself. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a genetic component to it. The way your body deals with toxins has a lot to do with your genetics. But it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily doomed to have migraines; it just means you need to detoxify. The only way to get rid of the symptoms for good is to figure out what’s causing them and to eliminate it.

Many different foods and activities have been recorded as “triggers” for migraine headaches. But in a healthy person, natural, whole foods should not trigger any headaches. Nor should mild stress. Only if your body is very sensitive will it respond to such normal phenomena with such a debilitating reaction. The real cause of the migraine is probably not the “trigger,” but rather an overly toxic condition that leaves us vulnerable to being triggered by foods and situations that we’d be able to handle if we were healthy.

Toxicity occurs from a diet high in processed and artificial foods and low in whole, high–nutrition foods. A stressful lifestyle with little sleep and no true rest increases the toxins and free radicals in our bodies and cuts down on our opportunities for rejuvenation. How does this lead to headaches or, worse, migraines?

If you have been consuming too much sugar, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, white flour, rancid fat, hormones (such as from birth control pills), and other processed foods and chemicals, you’re giving your liver a lot of work to do. The liver works at night while you’re sleeping, so if you’re not getting enough sleep, it has even less time to get its job done. If the liver is overloaded, the endocrine system takes over, helping the detoxification process. The endocrine glands, some of which are located in the head, swell with blood as a result, and a headache will occur.

The best thing to do at this point would be to get rest and sleep, drink water, and stop putting processed foods into your body. But what most people do at this stage is rely on headache medicines that contain high amounts of caffeine. In fact, caffeine is regularly prescribed for chronic migraine sufferers. Why does caffeine help? On a molecular level, caffeine interferes with the normal operation of a neurotransmitter called adenosine. Adenosine is what lets us know we need to stop what we’re doing and rest. One of its functions is to lower blood pressure by causing the blood vessels in the head to dilate. This results in increased blood flow to the head, which causes pain.

Caffeine, by blocking adenosine, keeps blood pressure high. This reduces the headache, but prevents the natural detoxification process. Your body, in an effort to be healthy, will restart the process as soon as the caffeine is metabolized, and you’ll get another headache. Thus the pain becomes “chronic.” The only way to make the headaches go away is to stop essentially procrastinating and to gradually let the healing process occur.

Using caffeine as a medication for headaches is not so different from the way the average person uses it—as a medication for fatigue. When we experience the normal and helpful signal of tiredness and exhaustion, we’re supposed to rest and go to sleep. Then the liver can go to work. But instead, we try coffee, coca–cola, chocolate, green or black tea, mountain dew, or other sources of caffeine. The reason why caffeine helps in this case again has to do with the way it competes with adenosine. Adenosine inhibits another neurotransmitter, dopamine, which is what causes our positive mood, as well as improving our cognition, motor skills, alertness, etc. Caffeine, by preventing adenosine from shutting down dopamine at the appropriate time, makes it possible for us to experience false feelings of energy, happiness, etc., which do not accurately reflect our health.

Meanwhile the body is still constantly trying to send us the message to rest. It creates more adenosine receptors so that adenosine can get through and do its job. We experience this as our “increased tolerance” for caffeine; the same amount of caffeine isn’t working any more, so we need to increase the amount we drink. The added caffeine moves in to the new adenosine receptors. Now, what would happen if we stopped the caffeine? Suddenly there would be all these unused adenosine receptors—all very sensitive to adenosine. We’d have a huge drop in dopamine, resulting in exhaustion, depression, etc., and our blood vessels would dilate, causing high blood flow to the head—and a massive headache.

Now, if you don’t want this to happen, you can always try more caffeine. But this means that the detoxification process gets sidelined yet again. And if the body didn’t send a strong enough signal with the migraines, it may have to react even more strongly next time. On the other hand, if you want to get rid of the symptoms for good, you may have to endure the detoxification process. The good news is that once you’re finished, not only do you feel great from your abundant supply of natural energy, your symptoms of toxicity are gone!

The medical costs of migraines, and the costs to the US economy in missed work and lost productivity, probably measures in the billions. Employers and employees feel pressured to work more than ever, so we use drugs like caffeine to create artificial energy for ourselves, borrowing against our own health. Eventually we have to pay that debt back, and are ultimately less productive, have worse quality of life, and may not live as long. If we can balance work and play, on the other hand, we have such good energy that we can get our work done in far less time than it would have taken if we were running on empty.

If you choose to start detoxifying this spring, take it slowly. Removing all the processed foods and caffeine from your diet can resulting in an overwhelming array of symptoms as your body starts the cleansing process. Cut down gradually on these substances while simultaneously introducing more whole natural foods, and you will experience a more mild and sustainable transition to health. If you would like guidance through this process, again, feel free to contact me for an initial consultation. Good luck with detoxifying this spring!