From sinus headaches to migraines, headaches are very common among the adult population. Unfortunately, some people find themselves suffering more regularly than others. If you are one of these people, it may be down to certain foods or drinks in your diet.
What we eat and when plays a significant role in headaches. The over-activity of arteries in the head is one of the main causes of pain and fluctuating sugar levels is one of the culprits for causing this, it can cause particularly painful vessel spasms in susceptible individuals too. Food additives, chemicals, alcohol and food temperature can all play a part in causing a headache. By keeping a food diary you can identify the foods which trigger your headaches allowing you to reduce the regularity headaches and subsequently decrease the negative impact they have on your life.
Below are some nutrients which can cause headaches. I have also included nutrients which can help alleviate the pain of headaches and prevent them from occurring.
Nitrites, food colourings and the like are common headache triggers. They increase blood flow to the brain which puts pressure on the vessels and can cause a throbbing headache. Monosodium-glutamate (MSG) is also known to induce a headache. It has been nicknamed as ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ due to the fact that soy sauce contains such a high level of MSG.
As we already know, carbohydrates are required for energy. Carbohydrates are broken down in the digestive system into glucose molecules which are then transported to cells via the bloodstream. This process increases blood sugar levels which causes the secretion of insulin. If the food we eat is absorbed quickly (as is the case for simple carbohydrates) then the pancreas responds with a strong hit of insulin. The sudden drop in blood sugars which follows appears to encourage arteries in the head to constrict, resulting in a sugar low with a painful headache.
Another common dietary headache trigger is Tyramine. Tyramine is a phenolic amine found in various foods and beverages, but particularly high in aged cheeses. Blue cheese, brie, feta, mozzarella and stilton are all high in Tyramine and may be the culprit behind your headaches.
If you have ever been eating an ice cream, ice lolly or sipping a cool drink and felt a stabbing pain in your forehead, then you certainly know what brain freeze is. These headaches can be particularly painful for individuals who suffer from migraines. Generally, they only last ~30 seconds but they are easily avoidable.
Substituting ice cream indulgence for a milkshake or yoghurt is the best way to avoid this pain which is caused when the cold food or drink touches your palate. The sudden temperature change of the tissue stimulates nerves to cause rapid dilation and swelling of blood vessels to increase blood flow to the area in a bid to warm it up. The dilation of blood vessels triggers pain receptors which increases our sensitivity to pain and produce inflammation of the trigeminal nerve which alerts the brain of a problem. This nerve is responsible for detecting facial pain and so the brain interprets this pain as coming from the forehead as opposed to within the mouth.
Adenosine is a chemical which helps to regulate the diameter of arteries. Caffeine is structurally similar to adenosine and counteracts it by constricting the arteries. To compensate, the body produces more adenosine. This becomes an issue when you withdraw from consuming caffeine (for example, when you go to sleep) because the high levels of adenosine cause the arteries to dilate. The excessive blood flow then causes a terrible headache.
Let’s assume for a moment that you have not consumed an excessive amount of alcohol and therefore are not suffering from a hangover headache. Although it is cited for many health benefits, red wine is also a culprit for causing headaches within minutes of consumption. The reasons behind this link have been researched and speculated for quite some time but it appears to be a result of the Tannins present in red wine. Tannins are flavanoids which are present in higher quantities in red wine than rose or white. They encourage the release of hormone serotonin which has been linked with causing headaches.
One of the worst things you can do if you suffer from headaches is not eat at all. Skipping meals disrupts hormonal balance, digestive function and has a negative impact on energy levels. All of these imbalances lead to decreased cognitive ability, bad moods and you guessed it, blinding headaches.
Below are nutrients which have a positive influence on headaches, helping to prevent the development of headaches and alleviate the symptoms if you are already suffering.
Yes it seems like the obvious choice, but the majority of people who suffer from headaches are dehydrated. There are too many people who drink barely any or no water at all, choosing instead to opt for drinks high in sugar, caffeine or both. As you can see from the information above, this then combines the negative effects that simple sugars and caffeine can have with a dehydrated state resulting in terrible headaches. Water is essential for all of the chemical functions in the body and we need it in order to function optimally and survive. Buy yourself a large bottle of water and once you have finished, top it up every day. If you drink the entire bottle each day you will be on the right track and because you will have it with you 24/7 there will be no need to go thirsty!
Not what you were expecting? Well spicy food can help alleviate the pain of sinus headaches by helping to decrease sinus congestion. Cayenne peppers or something similar are a better choice than a curry or alternative spicy fast food. All the additives will lead you back to square one.
Foods rich in potassium are the perfect hangover cure. Bananas are an excellent source of potassium and there are many great ways in which you can eat them. A banana smoothie, plain banana, cereal or oat meal topping are all great options. If you are finding it difficult to stomach food (because you are hungover) you can even freeze the banana and eat it as a banana lolly. This should make it easier for you to stomach and increase the time spent eating it so that should you feel nauseas, you will know before you have consumed the whole thing.
Complex carbohydrates provide you with the energy your body requires to function optimally without inducing an insulin spike or causing drastic changes in blood sugar levels which may lead to a headache. Sweet potato, whole grain pasta, brown rice and quinoa are all great options.
Vitamin E is known to help stabilise oestrogen levels. Elevated oestrogen levels can trigger migraines during menstruation. Sesame seeds are a great source of vitamin E and the perfect snack if you find yourself suffering from a migraine on a monthly basis.
Vitamin B Complex
Supplementing with a vitamin B complex helps to enhance cognitive function and can help reduce and alleviate stress headaches which are very common among adults. Chamomile tea is another great option if you find yourself suffering from a stress headache.