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by Health By Principle

Why that Starbucks drink isn't helping your migraine


For the Coffee Aficionados and Starbucks Lovers  


Welcome to the cozy corner of caffeine enthusiasts, where the aroma of freshly brewed coffee meets the vibrant hues of fall foliage and a healthy dose of nutritional factoids. As the seasons change, so does the menu of Starbucks and other coffee shops, transforming their ordinary menu into a haven of autumnal and winter delights. From the iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte to lesser-known gems like the Cinnamon Dolce latte, Starbucks unveils a palette of flavors that play nicely with the crispness of the season.   

While Starbucks and other coffee-based seasonal delights are delightful, they can also secretly boost your risk of migraine symptoms. So, before we dive in, let's shine a light on the nutritional aspects. In an era where wellness takes center stage, knowing the nutritional content of your favorite coffee beverage is essential. It's crucial to be mindful of the potential risk for migraine symptoms and find a balance between well-deserved indulgence and always-necessary health management. Amidst the sea of frothy concoctions, some ingredients might not bode well with migraine sufferers. We'll delve into why these certain Starbucks drinks may be a double-edged sword for those prone to migraines. 


Nutrition and Migraine Triggers 

In the world of coffee culture, Starbucks stands as the undisputed titan, providing a varied range of beverages that cater to every taste. However, it's imperative to shed light on the nutritional landscape and potential pitfalls, especially for those susceptible to migraines. 
We know that migraines and nutrition are closely related to one another and that healthy and balanced nutrition is key to both overall health and migraine prevention. It is easy to focus on the food-oriented area of nutrition, but the beverages we consume also impact our well-being. After all, over 60% of adult Americans drink coffee every day, and likely more than just one cup. Like any other food and beverage provider, Starbucks is subject to the scrutiny of health-conscious consumers. Recent research has scrutinized the nutritional content of Starbucks offerings, revealing both comforting and cautionary findings. 



A significant health focus is on sugar content, a notorious culprit in the health realm. Many Starbucks favorites, especially those adorned with whipped cream and syrups, can pack a sugary punch that exceeds daily recommendations. For instance, a grande Pumpkin Spice Latte can contain upwards of 50 grams of sugar, a startling figure given the American Heart Association's guideline of 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams for men. In other words, that leaves us with the recommendation of not allowing sugar to exceed 6% of your daily calories for both men and women. That seems like a small percentage for an entire day, doesn’t it? 
Why is sugar important to monitor if you have migraines?

When we eat too much sugary food or food that converts into sugar internally, we end up dehydrated. Sugar and caffeine are diuretics, meaning they dehydrate your body. Your cells become smaller and have less energy to function, leading to deficiencies in nutrients that your brain needs.   The biochemical balance of your cells gets disrupted and you no longer have Electrolyte Homeostasis (proper cell hydration). 

This may not come as much of a shock, but the caloric content of many popular coffee beverages can be substantial, raising concerns about their impact on a person’s overall health. Researchers emphasize the need for consumers to be mindful of their daily caloric intake, especially when indulgent treats become frequent habits. For individuals prone to migraines, the Starbucks experience can be a delicate balancing act.

One prominent suspect is tyramine, a naturally occurring compound found in various foods and drinks, including aged cheeses, processed meats, and some alcoholic beverages. Tyramine has been identified as a potential cause for an electrolyte imbalance, which causes the onset of migraine symptoms, partly due to its correlation with inflammation. It has also shown to impact a person’s chances of acquiring metabolic syndrome. As part of its inflammatory effects, tyramine is believed to cause blood vessels to constrict and then dilate, which may potentially spark migraine headaches. 

Yes, it is the beloved elixir of modern life and the source from which many acquire their energy. Caffeine, a cornerstone of Starbucks' offerings, is another double-edged sword. While some studies suggest that moderate caffeine intake may actually reduce the frequency of migraines, excessive consumption can lead to withdrawal headaches and has been proven to be a common migraine trigger. 
Furthermore, artificial additives and preservatives in flavored syrups and sauces may be problematic for migraine sufferers. Aspartame, commonly used as a sugar substitute, has been linked to headaches and migraines in some individuals. The artificial colors and flavors that give certain Starbucks beverages their vibrant appeal may also be potential triggers for sensitive individuals. 

Migraine sufferers often find that certain dietary choices, like dairy, can play a significant role in exacerbating migraine symptoms. While individual responses can vary, there are several reasons why dairy products may negatively impact migraine sufferers. 
  1. Tyramine Content: As mentioned above, certain aged and fermented dairy products, such as aged cheeses, contain high levels of tyramine, a compound known to trigger migraines in susceptible individuals. Tyramine can cause blood vessels to constrict and then dilate, potentially leading to headache symptoms.
  1. Histamine Release: Dairy products can stimulate the release of histamine in the body, and histamine is believed by some to be associated with migraines. Individuals who are sensitive to histamine may experience headaches or migraines as a result of its release, and certain dairy products, especially those that are aged or fermented, can contribute to this process.
  1. Lactose Intolerance: Some migraine sufferers may also experience lactose intolerance, which can lead to digestive discomfort and potentially trigger migraines. Lactose intolerance is the inability to properly digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products, and symptoms can include headaches.

  2. Inflammatory Response: Dairy products can contribute to inflammation in the body, and inflammation is believed to be a factor in migraine development. For individuals with a heightened inflammatory response, consuming dairy may increase the likelihood of migraine attacks.


Migraine sufferers need to identify and monitor their dietary triggers, and this may involve keeping a food journal to track the relationship between dairy consumption and migraine episodes. Consulting with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance based on individual sensitivities and triggers. 


Steering Towards Migraine-Friendly Options 

With not-so-migraine-friendly ingredients, sugars galore, and caffeine as foundations of popular beverages, it may seem like your favorite drink isn’t worth the risk. While it is true that the pitfalls and potential health concerns exist, Starbucks aficionados and coffee beverage lovers need not despair. The Starbucks menu, in particular, offers a spectrum of choices, and with a bit of awareness and nutritional expertise, it's possible to enjoy a cup of joe from your favorite spot without the unavoidable threat of a migraine ambush. 


Opting for beverages with lower sugar content is a wise choice. Choosing non-dairy milk alternatives and skipping whipped cream can also mitigate the caloric impact and potential dairy-related inflammation. For those sensitive to caffeine, exploring decaffeinated options or selecting beverages with lower caffeine levels can be a wise strategy. 


Starbucks has also made efforts to cater to health-conscious consumers, offering alternatives like almond milk and coconut milk. These dairy alternatives not only provide a lactose-free option but also introduce a subtle nutty flavor that can enhance the overall beverage experience. 


Starbucks offers a variety of dairy-free, vegan, and sugar-free options to cater to different dietary preferences and restrictions.  


Supplements to Save the Day 

We want to draw attention to the benefits of healthy nutrients and another way to get them into your diet. Supplementing with vitamin D, electrolytes, and magnesium can contribute to migraine prevention and overall well-being.

Vitamin D supports neurological health and helps regulate inflammatory responses, potentially reducing migraine frequency. Electrolytes, including potassium and sodium, aid in hydration and nerve function, addressing dehydration triggers linked to migraines. Magnesium plays a crucial role in neurotransmitter regulation, potentially mitigating the intensity and frequency of migraine attacks.

While individual responses vary, maintaining optimal levels of these nutrients through supplementation can provide a holistic approach to managing migraines and supporting overall health. As always, consulting a healthcare professional is recommended for personalized advice and dosage considerations. 


Sip Smartly, Savor Safely  

In the grand tapestry of Starbucks choices, awareness is the key to an enjoyable and health-conscious experience. Understanding the potential triggers and opting for migraine-friendly alternatives ensures that a trip to Starbucks remains a delightful experience rather than a problematic one.  

As you savor the seasonal offerings, we hope you can sip smartly and savor safely. Whether it's a Pumpkin Spice Latte (maybe with a dairy milk alternative) or a soothing herbal tea, Starbucks can still be a haven for all of you coffee enthusiasts out there, provided you navigate its offerings with awareness and consideration for your overall health and well-being. 

Let's sip smartly and savor the season, one cup at a time! 


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