Of course there are many different types of headaches including tension, sinus, hunger, and the dreaded migraine attack. Of these 45 million, nearly 30 million are suffering from migraines, and anyone who suffers from migraines can tell you that they tend to be more severe than your run of the mill headache. Migraine headaches can also include nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light forcing many to shut the world out until they pass. While medications may be necessary for some, especially for migraine sufferers, there may be some nutritional strategies you can incorporate into your routine to help reduce the number or severity of headaches you experience.
Monitoring your headaches and keeping track of when they occur in a diary can help pinpoint triggers. Some triggers, besides stress, to be aware of include hormonal changes around your period, undiagnosed food sensitivities or sensitivities to odors from perfumes, cleaning products, or air fresheners. Skipping meals or not drinking enough fluids for adequate hydration can also trigger headaches. Even changes in air pressure from weather events and altitude changes can induce migraines or headaches. Once you have identified triggers you can try to avoid them to reduce the occurrence of headaches or migraines.
Food sensitivities can be determined by trying an elimination diet. In an elimination diet, common foods that are typically eaten everyday are eliminated from the diet then re-introduced one at a time. Each time a food is re-introduced special attention should be paid to any symptoms that may occur. Some common foods and additives that trigger migraines or headaches include chocolate, caffeine, red wine, certain cheeses, MSG, and artificial sweeteners. But in reality, any food, spice or additive could be to blame as everyone is individually different.
According to Jan Patenaude, RD and Director of Medical Nutrition with Signet Diagnostic Corporation, “mediators in the blood, like cytokines or prostaglandins can trigger migraines and many foods and chemicals can trigger mediator release into the blood stream - even perfectly "healthy" things like garlic, salmon, bananas or parsley!” Jan has worked with hundreds of migraine patients to help them uncover their individual trigger foods. She recommends, “When "guessing" as to what your migraine triggers are fails you, the next step to consider is Mediator Release Testing followed by the LEAP diet protocol.” Avoidance of foods uncovered by MRT testing has been shown to be very beneficial when food or food chemical sensitivity is the cause. To learn more go to www.nowleap.com.
Magnesium- Headache sufferers, including both migraine and tension headaches, tend to have lower than normal magnesium levels which may trigger muscle tightness and pain. Some studies have found magnesium may help reduce the duration and need for medication. In one study, those receiving 600 mg/day of magnesium for 12 weeks experienced a 41.6 % reduction in the number of attacks and also reduced the need for medication significantly. (Cephalalgia. 1996 Jun;16(4):257-63)
Food sources of magnesium include legumes, nuts, whole grains and vegetables. If you take a supplement of magnesium, don’t exceed more than 500-600 mg per day and avoid supplement ingredients or food sources that you have determined contribute to your headaches. The combination of magnesium, riboflavin, and the herb feverfew has been found to be especially helpful to migraine sufferers.
Feverfew- Three double-blind, well controlled studies using dried powdered feverfew leaves have found this herb to be very effective in easing migraine-related symptoms while also reducing the number of attacks experienced. Lab studies have found it helps prevent blood vessel constriction and inflammation that may contribute to headaches. Some recommend its use when standard medication side effects can not be tolerated. Reported side effects from using feverfew have been minimal, including GI distress and nervousness.
5-HTP- The body uses 5-HTP to make serotonin, a brain chemical which plays an important role in sleep, mood, and pain control. The body makes 5-HTP from the amino acid L-tryptophan, found in protein rich foods such as turkey. But, food sources do not substantially raise levels. Supplements of 5-HTP, made from a West African plant source, may help in reducing the incidence and severity of migraines in adults and children according to some clinical studies. It is important to know that in the late 1980s, a batch of contaminated tryptophan supplements (closely related to 5-HTP) caused an outbreak of illness resulting in the temporary removal of tryptophan from the market. Therefore, you should obtain 5-HTP from high quality companies where careful quality control measures are met. Many health experts recommend taking 5-HTP under the guidance of a knowledgeable healthcare professional.
Peppermint- Two studies have found topical application of peppermint oil can help ease pain associated with tension headaches. One study found little difference between peppermint oil and acetaminophen (Tylenol) and their ability to ease pain.
Lavender-Essential oil of lavender, which in addition to its calming properties, also has mild analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be used as aroma therapy to ease migraines and headaches. It is also safe to apply in small amounts directly onto the skin.