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How To Avoid Those Rebound Headaches

September 14, 2010 by  

How To Avoid Those Rebound Headaches

The other day a patient emailed me complaining of the “worst headache she’d ever had.” On my recommendation she attempted to stop drinking coffee. But the first day she got such a horrible headache she had to leave work and could not attend a function later that evening. She asked why, if coffee was bad for you, she became ill when she stopped drinking it?

The answer is that her body responded to the lack of the daily stimulus that it was accustomed to receiving. The headache was a rebound from the lack of coffee/caffeine consumption that it was relying on for daily energy and stimulation.

What generally happens, especially with consumers of caffeinated, sugar-laden and alcoholic beverages, is a vicious cycle of needing more and more to prevent the side effects of rebounding. Rebounding is the pain and other symptoms people feel when their body is trying to return to homeostasis by detoxing the harmful chemicals from the system. Here’s how the problem magnifies with coffee, as an example.

You are tired and drink coffee to perk up. Yet by late afternoon another cup is needed to remain awake. However, this cup keeps you up at night and makes it difficult for you to wake up in the morning. So, the next day or week you find yourself drinking two cups in the morning and one in the afternoon and/or early evening.

This vicious cycle is made worse by coffee’s diuretic action, which causes excess perspiration and urination, leading to dehydration. Extended dehydration leads to constipation which, in an effort to move the bowels, you drink more coffee.

This remedy may work for a while, but then your intestines become so dry that days pass between bowel movements. During this time toxins build up, leach back into the bloodstream and spread in the body. The result: headaches, aches and pains, fatigue, stiffness and red and irritated eyes.  All of these symptoms are side effects of the rebound effect.

Generally, when someone comes to me for health advice at such a time, I tell them to stop drinking coffee. And they say, “I am so tired. If I don’t drink coffee I have no energy. And when I don’t drink, then I get a headache and I can’t go to the bathroom.”

They are right to a point: The caffeine is giving them energy but at the same time it is also sapping their energy.

Caffeine and sugar drinks offer the body a false or “empty” energy. It is not real. So when the fake energetic means of moving through the day drops out (you feel like crashing), the body returns to its normal state. But that normal state is one that is worn out and exhausted, since its energy depleted long ago and it has been moving along on legal yet addictive stimulants. It’s akin to a car whose battery is nearly dead yet the car is being towed from place to place. As a result of the constant “towing” of the body at the stimulation of coffee (for example) it starts to cry out in pain.

The body says, “I hurt. I am exhausted. I am dehydrated. My nerves are inflamed.”

As the body is normalized by detoxing and returning to homeostasis (balance) you feel the pain, the throbbing, the aches the headaches that were always there but just hidden under the stimulant effects of the coffee (or soda or alcohol or drugs or cigarettes).

Rebound pain and rebound headaches are so-named because they occur as the body “rebounds” from over-consumption or withdrawal from too many analgesics or prescription medications, coffee or caffeinated soft drinks, elevated adrenaline levels, sleep disorders and so on.

Like migraine and cluster headaches, rebound headaches are vascular in nature and characterized by steady pounding or throbbing on both sides of the head caused by constricting and dilating blood vessels. This type of vascular headache is in theory the easiest to prevent, but since it is directly triggered by poor lifestyle choices, it may be the most difficult to eliminate.

In essence, rebound headaches are a recuperative measure by the body that is telling you something is wrong and is forcing rest and a change in behavior by way of head pain. They occur commonly as a result of toxic build-up of medication, alcohol or caffeine in the system, as well as from prolonged periods of physically draining activity, such as cramming for finals or that wild 72-hour weekend party.

The best way to avoid rebound headaches, then, is to refrain from daily over-stimulation: Late nights and early mornings, coffee all day, drinking all night, excessive partying, hours and hours of studying and too much fat or sugar in the diet.

The rebound pain (and sometimes accompanying stupor) only comes after the heightened activity is removed and the body has to adjust back to normal. It is better to slowly wean off coffee — or stimulant drinks and foods and recreational drugs — than try to cut them out cold turkey.

Regarding coffee, if you drink three cups a day, reduce to two for a day or two. If you can manage, drop down to one cup and one cup of half-caffeine/half-decaf. It is important to find a weaning “formula” that you can manage and that works for you over a short period of time.

And when the rebound headaches come, usually a small dose of the item (a few sips of coffee, for example), two glasses of water, a hot shower and rest will return the body to a livable state until the next day when it has rebalanced itself again.

— Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley

is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. The Wiley Method provides a revolutionary way of providing recovery and prevention of chronic pain, illness and disease. Grab your FREE COPY of Dr. Mark Wiley's "The 3 Secrets to Optimal Health" HERE.

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  • DrG

    Why would you recommend someone stop drinking coffee? Other than difficulty sleeping, there are few, if any, bad side effects from caffeine, and many health benefits, in peer reviewed medical literature.

  • Fed Up Gal in NM

    Dr Wiley / DrG,

    I am not a medical physican; all I can say is I hope DrG is correct :-).

    I drink between 2-4 cups of coffee per day (with agave honey for sweeter) and on occasion with one-half tsp of regular sugar when the options available are only the artificial sweetner ones.

    Since I do have migraines, I no longer use any artificial sweetner or drink any of the sugar free softdrinks; this seems to have improved the severity of the migraines and frequency overall. I believe the coffee is just about the only caffeine I’m getting now, besides nominal amounts in an occasional glass of ice tea or or occasional [dark]chocolate treat.

    Some may recall I’ve posted previously about the month-long migraine I had several months ago (Feb/March 2010 time if I recall correctly). That was when I was at my wits end with that perpetual migraine, so I purchased a memory foam pillow and some melatonin (with theanine)from Costco and started taking 1 tab (3mg) per night.

    The very next morning I awoke with no migraine / headache and did not have another one until this past Friday and Saturday mornings. The only thing I can connect with the reoccurence of the migraines is that I had recently started cutting down on the melatonin dosage (from 3mg to 1.5mg) because I read some information that said you don’t need 3mg until you’re in your 70′s and I started skipping a night here and there. That is honestly the only thing I changed (still use the memory foam pillow and still drink 2-4 cups of coffee per day in the morning).

    So, I decided to start taking [again] the melatonin every night and at the 3mg doseage (and still drinking the 2-4 cups of coffee per morning). So far, no more migraines….no more headaches of any kind; the jury is still out of course, but so far so good. The brand of melatonin I’ve been taking is the “Schiff” brand (with theanine) and I purchased at Costco (surprisingly very inexpensive).

    I realize this may not be the answer for everyone, but it seems to be helping with my migraine issues. Just sharing; that’s all.

  • dan az

    All I can say is I drink three pots a day one in the morning and one in the afternoon and one before bed and I sleep fine and have been doing this for about 45 yrs. So if I stop know who knows what will happen.You think I’m crazy now just wait and see what happens then!

    • Googy

      Laughing.I am with you.So when do you want to go to Washinton DC.??Just sending the love.Peace

  • jespren

    I grew up watching my father guzzel coffee just to become functional in the morning. He was/is completely addicted to caffeine (as is, unfortunately my husband). I decided very young that if I never started drinking caffeine then I could never get addicted to it. From a non-doctor the ‘why quit coffee’ is obvious, because anything that so changes the physiology of the body that someone can’t function without it is bad. I have long watched my colleges in high school, college, the work place, and even my husband at home completely drained, falling asleep, gulping down coffee and soda pop just in an attempt to stave off the crash, and suffering the withdraw effects when they couldn’t get their hands on them. On the other hand I do not drink caffeine, I go to bed when I am tired, nap when possible if I need more sleep and overall just function as needed. Even though I am now a nursing mom who averages 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night I still function much better than my friends when they get shorted on sleep, despite their caffeine intake. And its not hard to guess who would do better if they suddenly couldn’t get ahold of caffeine.

  • jopa

    I think the above article is just an attempt to get Juan Valdez and his fat a– deported.

  • Nia Passley

    Great. Thanks for putting up this. Its always nice to see someone educate the interet.


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