Parents who are mystified about the cause of their son's or daughter's daily headaches might want to check their child's soda-drinking habits.
Results of a five-year study suggest that children who drink too much cola may experience "caffeine-induced" headaches on a daily basis. This finding should serve as an "alert" for pediatricians and other health professionals, since soft drinks account for more than half of the caffeine intake among U.S. schoolchildren.
A high caffeine intake may also rob children of much-needed sleep, according to previously published research. Two Ohio researchers found that children with higher intakes of caffeine slept fewer hours, were more likely to wake during the night and tended to be sleepier during the day than their peers.
The current study involved 36 children and teens, ages 6 to 18, who visited a hospital with complaints of daily or near-daily headaches and were deemed "excessive caffeine consumers." All reported drinking at least 1.5 liters of cola each day and an average 11 liters of cola each week -- a caffeine intake roughly equivalent to two large cups of instant coffee or small cups of ground coffee per day, and 17 such servings per week. None reported drinking coffee.
After gradually discontinuing their daily cola-drinking habit over a one- to two-week period, 33 of the 36 patients experienced a "complete cessation of all headaches," which lasted throughout the 24-week follow-up period. And they did so without any side effects, such as any type of caffeine "withdrawal" headache, the researchers note.
The remaining three patients began experiencing occasional migraines in place of the daily headaches. But these three, along with four of their formerly "heavy" cola-drinking peers also had a family history of headaches or migraine, the researchers note. The study also included a comparison group of 69 children and teenagers who reported frequent headache, but consumed only low amounts of daily caffeine.
For 26 of these kids, the use of analgesic medications appeared to be behind the headaches. Nearly all got relief once they stopped overusing the painkillers. Taking too many headache remedies too often can cause a rebound headache, which can only be relieved by stopping the medication completely, according to the National Headache Foundation.
Some over-the-counter headache remedies do contain caffeine, but caffeine-containing brands seem to be no more likely to trigger rebound headaches than other brands, according to the foundation.
While excessive caffeine can be a headache trigger, small doses have been shown to be helpful when given with pain relievers such as aspirin and acetaminophen, according to the group's Web site.
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