Nearly everyone gets a headache at some point in their life. Most of us are familiar with those brought on by the flu, ear infections and the occasional overindulgence. But when they are a regular occurrence it becomes a problem. It’s hard to perform everyday activities, concentrate or be motivated when you have a throbbing pain in your head.
Whatever the underlying cause, recurrent headaches need addressing, not least because the negative effects on your physical and emotional health and on your precious immune system can make you more susceptible to illness and depression.
Why do you get headaches?
A headache has nothing to do with your brain hurting, since your brain has no nerve endings and cannot feel pain. It’s really pain somewhere around your brain, specifically inthe nerves and muscles located in your head and neck, as well as the meninges (the membranous coverings of the brain and spinal cord).
If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still experiencing chronic headaches, you need to see a medical professional. This is good practice to rule out any serious conditions.
As a nutritionist, these are some of the common conditions that I often see associated with frequent headaches:
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Food intolerances
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Adrenal fatigue
While over the counter painkillers and caffeine might offer temporary relief, they can cause more harm than good in the long run. Instead of turning to medications and stimulants, it’s far better to start nourishing your body with the right foods, while identifying and addressing any underlying causes.
Headaches and nutrition
Different foods and nutrients can have an enormous effect how your brain processes signals related to mood and stress. What we eat (or don’t eat) makes a huge difference. For example, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is key for maintaining consistent energy levels and preventing headaches and migraines.
I recommend a whole food diet that contains plenty of brain-boosting antioxidants and avoids sugar and processed foods. Identifying food sensitivities is vital. I also work with my clients to improve their digestion, correct any nutritional deficiencies and manage their stress levels by dealing with the tension and anxiety that often contribute to recurrent headaches. I suggest supplements and home remedies in place of pain medication.
My tips for “headache free” living:
- Eat a well-balanced diet, including protein and some healthy fat at every meal. Nuts and seeds are a good source of both.
- Eat foods with omega-3 fatty acids, which have an anti-inflammatory effect. Organic salmon, leafy greens, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are a few great sources.
- Headaches are often caused by allergies. Keep a food diary to help you identify offending foods.
- Try eliminating foods that contain tyramine and the amino acid phenylalanine. Then reintroduce one food at a time and see which trigger headaches. Foods that contain tyramine include alcoholic beverages, bananas, cheese, chicken, chocolate, citrus fruits, luncheon meats, smoked fish and freshly baked yeast products. Phenylalanine is found in aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and nitrites (preservatives found in hot dogs and luncheon meats).
- To help prevent headaches, eat small meals and eat between meals to help stabilise wide swings in blood sugar. Include almonds, almond milk, watercress, parsley, fennel, garlic, cherries and pineapple in your diet.
- Practice deep-breathing exercises or go for a walk. A lack of oxygen can cause headaches.
- Regular exercise reduces stress, which can help reduce the incidence and severity of tension headaches.
- Be sure to get sufficient sleep. Magnesium and calcium taken before bedtime can help. Don’t eat anything sweet after 5PM.
- Engage in regular stress reduction activities such as meditation.
- Always seek and treat the cause of the headache, not the symptom. Long-term reliance on aspirin and other non-prescription painkillers can make chronic headaches worse by interfering with the body’s natural ability to fight headaches.
For nutritional consultations on a wide range of health issues, including recurrent headaches, contact Susan Tomassini, Licensed Nutritionist BSc (Hons) Dip BCNH @ 06 17481114 or visit www.foodwise.life for your personalized nutritional program!