Stories from Healthy Drinks

Yes, ‘tea headaches’ exist—these are the herbs that are to blame

Emily Laurence

Emily LaurenceApril 30, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/ valentinrussanov

A cup of tea is often thought of as the remedy to virtually anything that ails you. Feel a cold coming on? Have a tummy ache? Stressed out? Tea is pretty much always the answer. Surely tea can do no wrong, right? (Unless it’s one of those sketchy detox teas.)

As someone who likes to sip something hot all day, I steadily have a mug of the beloved bev by my side, starting as soon as I finish my morning cup of coffee and lasting until I’m finished working in the late afternoon. A lot of my friends are all-day tea drinkers, too. Because tea is notoriously linked to so many health benefits (seriously, who does their PR?), it took me a long time to suspect that it actually might be to blame for a recurring headache I have almost every day around 4 p.m. Surely, it’s from my morning coffee or maybe I just need a snack, I thought. But after asking around, I’ve learned that tea headaches actually exist—and happen to a lot of people.

“Tea can cause headaches mainly because of the presence of caffeine,” Tania Elliott, MD tells me. If you steadily drink a caffeinated tea for hours (such as black, yerbe, or green), it can cause a headache for the same reason as drinking too much coffee can. Caffeine narrows the blood vessels surrounding the brain, and when you stop consuming it, they expand again, which can cause pain.

Watch the video below to see how green tea and matcha are different—and which one is healthiest:

Dr. Elliott says there are also some specific ingredients commonly used in teas that are linked to causing migraines. “Teas with ingredients such as ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and St. John’s wort have been shown in small studies to trigger or worsen migraines,” she says. “The reason is because these herbs can interfere with the metabolism of certain migraine medicines making them less effective.” In other words, if you popped an over-the-counter to help cure your headache, and brewed yourself a hot cup of one of tea with one of the aforementioned herbs thinking that will help too, it could actually backfire.

Holistic health coach, herbalist, and Supernatural founder Rachelle Robinett adds that some herbs can also cause a histamine reaction (aka an inflammatory response triggered by an allergen) in the body, which can in turn, cause a headache. “A histamine reaction is a natural and necessary reaction [from your immune system], but when overly severe or chronically triggered, can cause rashes or headaches, and especially migraines,” Robinett says. “The approach for remedying that is usually to reduce high-histamine foods, including herbs [teas with citrus flavors in particular are considered high-histamine], but it’s important to consider why what is a ‘normal’ histamine reaction for most people is over-active for you. If your gut health is compromised, for example, that could cause a reaction since gut health and an immune response are directly linked.” Her advice to getting to the root issue is tracking when you’re headaches are occurring and if they are coinciding with anything else, like consuming high-histamine foods.

Robinett says it’s still fine to drink tea throughout the day. The key is choosing one that’s not caffeinated and low-histamine. Some good ones to consider: nettle, turmeric, chamomile, skullcap, and moringa. When this advice is considered, it seems that the solution to a tea headache is, well, tea. (Just a different variety.) Hey, I’ll drink to that.

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