Is Tea Good for Headaches? Which Types to Drink (and Avoid) When Your Head Hurts

Fact checked by Nick Blackmer

  • Tea may be able to relieve headaches because it can help people relax or boost their hydration status.

  • However, tea can also cause headaches for some people, including those sensitive to caffeine or histamines.

  • Peppermint, ginger, and lavender tea may be more likely to help alleviate a headache, but what works best depends on each individual, experts said.

When confronted with aches, pains, or stress, many people turn to their favorite cup of tea. But when it comes to headaches, can drinking tea help relieve symptoms, or could it be making them worse?

Tea is one of the most widely-consumed beverages in the world—it’s second only to water. Likely impacting its popularity is the fact that tea can have a number of positive effects on people’s health, including alleviating cold symptoms and reducing anxiety.

And for those who suffer from headaches, tea may seem like a simple way to reduce or even remedy headache pain and pressure.

However, the relationship between tea and headaches is a bit more complicated. In fact, it’s somewhat paradoxical—tea can be both a cure for and a cause of headaches, depending on the type of tea you choose and the person who is consuming the tea.

Before steeping your next cup, here’s what experts had to say about which teas are most likely to worsen or improve headache symptoms.

<p>Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images</p>

Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images

Certain Properties in Tea Can Trigger Headaches

There are many tea components that, depending on each individual’s sensitivities, could trigger a headache.

“Certain teas—matcha, black, oolong, Earl Gray and others—contain caffeine, and evidence shows that excessive caffeine may trigger headaches,” Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, author and registered dietitian nutritionist based in Los Angeles, told Health.

Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine—whether from tea or other beverages—can also lead to a dependency, Davis added. If someone doesn’t maintain their normal level of caffeine consumption, they can then experience withdrawal symptoms such as low energy or headaches, she explained.

Additionally, drinking a lot of caffeine “may lead to poor sleep, which could result in headaches,” Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, registered dietitian and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition, told Health.

Because of this, people may choose to opt for caffeine-free teas when they’re trying to relieve a headache. Herbal teas—which contain single herbs (like a mint tea) or a blend of multiple herbs—are popular options, and usually don’t have any effect on headaches.

But problems can arise if someone is drinking herbal teas while taking specific medications. Herbal teas can cause adverse drug interactions that can lead to a headache—ashwagandha, an ingredient found in some herbal tea blends, is one example.

And licorice, another herbal tea ingredient, has been linked to an increased blood level of aldosterone, which can result in headaches.

Beyond herbal teas, components of other types of tea can be headache-inducing, too.

Tannins are naturally occurring chemicals found in the bark of trees, fruits, seeds, and some tea leaves. These impart an astringent taste—described as bitter or dry—that is often characteristic of red wine.

However, for some people, the tannins in tea can cause headaches. Though more evidence is needed, these compounds may influence the release of serotonin, which could trigger a headache.

Additionally, there’s limited evidence that tannins could interfere with the absorption of iron, which helps the body transport oxygen in the blood. This iron-deficient state could potentially contribute to headaches.

Finally, histamines are another compound that tea drinkers may want to avoid. Histamines naturally occur in various foods, particularly those that undergo fermentation or aging processes, such as aged cheeses, pickled vegetables, and wine.

“Some teas (particularly fermented teas like black tea) may contain histamines, which some individuals may be intolerant to, leading to symptoms such as headaches, hives, or nasal congestion,” Davis explained.

Related: Getting a Headache at the Same Time Every Day? Study Explains Why

But for Some, Drinking Tea Can Alleviate Headache Symptoms

Though some tea varieties may trigger headaches for some people, there’s also a chance that tea could reduce headache symptoms.

Most basically, drinking tea is a great way to increase your water intake and maintain a healthy hydration status. Even mild dehydration can trigger a headache, so the sheer notion that drinking tea helps you meet your daily fluid goals could be a “pro” for headache relief.

Caffeine—which can be a headache trigger for some—may actually offer relief for others. Drinking caffeinated tea could narrow dilated blood vessels, thereby alleviating symptoms in moderate amounts.

It’s also possible that tea could help reduce some headache symptoms simply because it’s relaxing. A small study found that people who consumed four cups of tea daily over a 6-week period were better able to recover from stress. For tension or stress headaches in particular, relaxation and self-care practices may be able to lessen symptoms.

Related: Soaking Feet in Hot Water Is a Migraine Home Remedy Experts Say Might Actually Work

Finding What Works for You

Because of this conflicting evidence, researchers are still trying to understand the relationship between headaches and tea. But data published last year in Scientific Reports showed that there doesn’t appear to be any link between tea consumption and migraine risk in European populations.

Of course, if someone is sensitive to caffeine, histamines, tannins, or other tea components, they may want to avoid drinking it.

However, if you are interested in giving the practice a try, Davis said there are certain teas that may be more likely to offer headache relief than others. She said these include:

  • Peppermint tea. It contains menthol, which can have a calming effect on muscles and may be useful for alleviating tension headaches.

  • Ginger tea. Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and may be able to ease nausea, making it beneficial for headaches associated with an upset stomach.

  • Lavender tea. Lavender is thought to have calming and soothing properties, which could reduce stress and, as a result, limit headaches.

Other teas that may offer headache relief include those that contain curcumin (the active compound in turmeric) or chamomile, but more data is needed to confirm this relationship.

Because factors such as tea type and individual sensitivities can play such a big role, it’s not easy to say whether any one specific tea will help or exacerbate someone’s headache. Instead, it’s something “worth exploring on an individualized basis,” Davis suggested.

“It’s important to note that individual responses to tea can vary, and what works for one person may not work for another,” she said. “I always recommend consulting with a dietitian to get personalized dietary advice.”

Related: A Daily Cup of Dark Tea Might Help Improve Blood Sugar and Reduce Diabetes Risk

For more news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on