Why a cup of tea can ease the pain

By Robert Matthews

THE British habit of dealing with life's ills by putting the kettle on now has some solid scientific backing.

New research has revealed that the caffeine in tea and coffee can relieve bad headaches faster than standard pain-killers.

Caffeine has long been known to provide an energising effect, but evidence that it also has pain-relieving properties has recently emerged. A scientific investigation has found that caffeine alone is a surprisingly potent pain-killer.

The results emerged during a trial involving hundreds of people who regularly suffer tension headaches. Patients were given a standard pain-killer - ibuprofen - either alone or incombination with caffeine, and the change in their condition compared with those who received just caffeine or a placebo.

The results confirmed claims that caffeine boosts the effectiveness of standard pain-killers, with 71 percent of the patients taking the combination reporting complete relief, compared to only 58 per cent of those who took ibuprofen alone.

The researchers were amazed to find, however, that patients given just caffeine did just as well as those given only ibuprofen: 58 per cent reported complete pain relief, and they typically felt better up to half an hour faster than those taking standard pain relief.

The results could not be dismissed as mere placebo effect either: less than half of patients given only aplacebo reported complete pain relief.

Reporting their findings in the latest issue of Current Pain and Headache Reports, the researchers at the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago conclude: "Caffeine alone provides a low but very real level of effectiveness in treating tension-type headaches."

The results follow growing evidence of health benefits from regular tea drinking. Studies suggest that the antioxidants in tea may be linked to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, and also have a beneficial effect on cholesterol and high blood pressure.