Headaches, one of the most frequently occurring disorders, are more prevalent than even the common cold. Most of us, including children and adolescents, have experienced headaches of various kinds and intensities, and most of us will continue to have them more often then necessary.
With today’s fast paced society, the vast majority of headaches are caused by tension in the muscles of the head, shoulders, and neck. With tension headaches, you may feel tightness, pressure, or throbbing anywhere in your head or neck. Often the pain is worse as the day goes on but disappears upon waking the next day.
A more severe type of headache is the migraine headache. They are intensely painful and are often accompanied by vision disturbances, extreme sensitivity to light, nausea, and vomiting. Often incapacitating, a migraine headache may last a few hours, or it can go on for several days. Unlike tension headaches, migraines are caused by disturbances in blood flow to the head. In addition, it is rare to have just one migraine; most migraine sufferers will experience them at least once a month.
Cluster headaches are another type of headache, characterized by painful one-sided headaches that usually occur in clusters of several headaches in a short period of time. With cluster headaches, there may be no headaches for weeks or even months between episodes.
Generally speaking, headaches can be triggered by a variety of factors such as stress, anxiety, allergies, hormone imbalance, poor digestion and detoxification, low blood sugar, fatigue, and drugs (including caffeine and alcohol). In most cases, headaches can be relieved by identifying and removing the cause of what triggers it, along with applying strategies for natural pain relief.
If you are experiencing recurring or extremely severe headaches, you should consult a qualified practitioner to rule out any serious underlying causes, which can range from glaucoma to high blood pressure to brain tumors. It is also important to check with your practitioner before combining herbs with prescription headache medications.
Precautions should be taken if you have a headache that is much more severe than any you’ve ever experienced before as this may be a signal for a medical emergency. If you experience a headache along with any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention at once:
- Double vision
- Confusion or disorientation
- A stiff neck
- Projectile vomiting
- Deafness in one ear
- Extreme fatigue or weakness
To narrow down the type of headache you may be experiencing, here are some symptoms to look out for:
- One-sided headaches that are intense for a number of days or weeks and then disappear and reappear later
- Sensation of a tight band around the head
- Tension in the neck or the shoulder
- Pressure or throbbing anywhere in the head or the neck
- Severe pain, usually on one side of the head
- Vision disturbances that precede or accompany head pain
- Sensitivity to light
- Nausea and vomiting
- May last for several days
Many root causes can be associated with the above symptoms
- Emotional stress
- Allergies (food or environmental)
- Poor posture and spinal misalignment, especially of the neck and the jaw (TMJ)
- Excessive intake or withdrawal from drugs, like alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or illegal substances
- Low blood sugar
- Hormonal imbalance
- Constipation and poor digestion/detoxification
- Nutritional deficiencies (especially of magnesium, B6, essential fatty acids)
To help avoid headaches caused by food additives, avoid processed foods and focus on eating eat meals that you’ve prepared from whole foods. You can also help to keep your blood sugar steady by consuming five small portions throughout the day, instead of three large meals.
Make sure you get enough fiber to reduce the chance of headaches induced by constipation or toxic buildup. One to two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds, along with 10 ounces of water, is a good way to start the day. As a rule of thumb, if you consume three meals during the day you should have a bowel elimination two to three times a day.
Drink an eight-ounce glass of quality water every two waking hours. The fluid will keep the muscles in your head and neck supple and will also flush out toxins.
Include dietary sources of both calcium and magnesium in your diet. Soy products, green leafy vegetables, and beans are all rich in calcium. Green leafy vegetables and beans are good sources of magnesium as well, as are nuts, bananas, and wheat germ. If food allergies keep you from eating these foods, take a good calcium/magnesium supplement every day to ensure adequate intake.
Fish such as salmon and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and may help prevent migraine headaches. Consume a serving three to five times weekly.
Food to Avoid
If you suffer from migraines or recurring headaches, your problem may be caused by an allergic reaction or sensitivity. A qualified practitioner should be able to assess what may be triggering your sensitivity and help guide you through the process.
Common triggers of both tension and migraine headaches include foods that contain either tyramine or phenylalanine. Tyramine can be found in cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, coffee, cold cuts, herring, smoked fish, wine, alcohol, sausage, sour cream, and vinegar.
Sources of phenylalanine include monosodium glutamate (MSG), the artificial sweetener aspartame, and nitrates, which can be found in processed meats, especially hot dogs. If you do have an allergy or sensitivity, eliminate the troublesome food or foods from your diet.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugar products (including artificial sweeteners).
Do not consume sugary foods. They cause your blood-sugar level to rise sharply and then crash; often, the result is a headache.
Very cold foods can also cause headaches. Ice cream and cold drinks are frequent culprits, so avoid them.
If you suffer from chronic headaches, a detoxification program may be effective. Unless low blood-sugar levels bring on your headaches, you can try a two to three day vegetable juice fast. If you are unsure how to go about this, you can contact a qualified practitioner in your area that can guide you through the process and help you with other dietary and lifestyle changes that may help.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is notorious for triggering headaches, and for that reason, food companies try not to list it on their product labels. Beware of common additives that are really hidden sources of MSG. Some of these are calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, and hydrolyzed protein
In some cases, immediate relief can be found by having someone rub the back of your neck and your upper back with ice. If you are experiencing a sinus headache, you can try the following self -massage. Lean forward over a sink or a towel to allow the sinuses to drain. Gently rub the areas over and below your eye sockets. You can also extend out from beneath your eye socket in a straight line across your cheeks. If you’re prone to anxiety and tension, you may want to schedule regular sessions with a massage therapist.
There are several ways to reduce stress. Exercising is very helpful and taking a 20-30 minute brisk walk three to four times a week or as needed may be the right choice for you. Yoga or Tai Chi are two other forms of exercise and meditation that have been shown to relive stress. Finding the right type of exercise or mediation for you can be an exciting experience.
- Breathe deeply. Some headaches are caused or made worse by an inadequate supply of oxygen
- To reduce muscular spasms, lie down in a darkened room and apply a cold compress to the painful area. Some people may find that a warm compress is more effective
- A heating pad, a warm compress, or a hot towel on the neck or the shoulders is a relaxing way to ease muscular tension
- Place an ice pack (wrapped in a thin towel) on the back of the neck and put the feet in a bucket of warm water for ten minutes
- Poor posture and the resulting misalignment of the vertebrae can lead to headaches. Wear flat or low-heeled shoes that fit well, and if you work long hours at a telephone, ask your company to invest in a headset for you. Ergonomic chairs are also recommended for people who sit a long time during the day
- Women on the birth control pill should consider discontinuing it to see if their migraine headaches improve. Also, women using synthetic hormone replacement should switch to natural HRT or nutritional supplements to see if their headaches go away
- Have a qualified practitioner check for temporomandibular joint problems, which can be a cause of tension or migraine headaches
Since headaches can be a sign of a more serious problem, finding a qualified practitioner in your area can be helpful as they will be able to evaluate your personal needs and help guide you through the process of eliminating your symptoms.
Where You Should Start
If you are ready to start your complete journey towards better health and don’t know where to begin, Craig’s new book “Dietary and Lifestyle Choices and their Effects on the Body” is filled with information on the basics and gives you a reality check on life. Find out more here at http://craigvelardi.com/book/