Headaches and migraines affect an estimated 4.9 million Canadians—are you one of those nearly 5 million people? Do you find yourself suffering with headaches or migraines, but can’t figure out why? Read on for 10 things that might be causing your headaches or migraines—number 3 might surprise you!
Headaches and migraines differ considerably from person to person in severity, frequency, and disability. Some experience severe pain infrequently while for others it is a frequent and painful reality. No matter which camp you fall into, temporary or chronic, severe or light pain, headaches and migraines are debilitating and limit your ability to enjoy your life to its fullest. No one should have to suffer like that!
Many people look to drugs to help cure their headaches, such as NSAIDS, aspirin, and even antidepressants or anticonvulsants in severe cases. However, these treatments simply mask the symptoms—they don’t delve deeper to the root cause of the problem.
There are many dietary and lifestyle factors that can trigger headaches in people. Everyone is different, but by exploring these options, you might be able to find the root cause of your pain, and start thinking about living without headaches—instead of living with medication.
Take a look through the following 10 things that might be causing your headaches or migraines. Some might surprise you—some might not—but addressing each one and thinking about how it applies to your life might bring you some serious relief.
Food Allergies. This is a common cause of headaches and migraines. Food allergens cause the body’s inflammation to increase, intestinal linings to be damaged, and nutrient absorption to be inhibited… all of which can lead to headache pain. In fact, gluten sensitivity is a highly underdiagnosed allergen that is estimated to cause 90% of chronic headache cases. Lactose is another popular sensitivity that might be the culprit behind your pain, especially aged cheese. An amino acid called tyramine is high in aged cheeses, and is a common trigger for headaches. Soy, eggs, and citrus can also cause reactions. Try eliminating these foods for a month and then slowly reintroduce the “test” foods to see if you react to them. Don’t reintroduce all the foods at once, though, otherwise you won’t be able to tell what you’re sensitive to.
Dehydration. Another major cause! In fact, even a slight decrease in body water can reduce brain functioning, lower circulation, and cause headaches and migraines. Are you drinking enough water? The general guideline is 8 glasses a day, but this varies depending on your size, activity levels and exertion levels (if you sweat a lot in a day or have a physically demanding job, you might need more water). Try hitting that goal with filtered water, herbal teas, chicken broth, and fresh vegetables and see if you have relief.
Toxic Burden. Toxins and chemicals can enter your cells and trigger headaches. Where do these toxins and chemicals come from? Processed foods with refined ingredients; conventionally farmed produce that are sprayed with pesticides and chemicals; conventionally raised meats with antibiotics and hormones; damaged fats like vegetable oils; conventional cleaning and personal care products with toxins and chemicals; and of course, alcohol and drugs. Go over this list and make the switch to natural or organic, cutting out whatever you can. This will significantly reduce your toxic burden. It’s also great to do a liver detox a few times a year to give your body and liver a really good cleanse and eliminate any toxin stores!
Undereating or Skipping Meals. Have you ever noticed that you get a headache when you are really hungry or have missed a meal? This is a common cause that is very much in your control! Ensuring you eat three balanced meals with adequate protein, fiber, and healthy fats, and snacking whenever necessary, will help you avoid the blood sugar drops that can cause headaches. Think ahead and prepare meals and snacks that are easy to take on the go. A few hours of prep might save you days of headache pain!
Stress. The majority of visits to doctor’s offices are for conditions in which stress plays a role—and headaches and migraines are among those conditions. There are multiple different ways stress can cause headaches: holding tension in muscles which creates headache pain; dietary stress (60% of our stress is dietary!) from poor diets; keeping irregular schedules; or simply putting too much pressure on yourself and overthinking. There are many ways to reduce stress, from eating a balanced diet (Lifewatchers can show you how!) to increasing you stress-ability (Discover the Power of Food holds the key to this) and simply learning to enjoy life. However, none of these things come easy. If you’re stressed, check out one of our free classes or come and talk to a member of our staff to see what might work for you!
Lack of Sleep. No surprise here: a bad sleep is a headache-promoter. Sleep is the time that the body catches up on digestion, detoxification, and establishes balanced hormone production—and all three of those functions must be working well for you to avoid getting headaches! Aim for 8 hours a night, establish a routine that you can stick to, sleep in a dark room, and engage in relaxing activities right before bed (TV is NOT relaxing; a bath, journaling, or meditation is).
Hormone Imbalance. Hormone changes, fluctuations, or imbalances can cause headaches in women and men alike (though women are more prone to this cause because they encounter different life cycles like menstruation, pregnancy, birth control pills, and menopause). High levels of estrogen and low levels of progesterone are the main culprits behind hormone imbalances, and these are often caused by exposure to xenoestrogens (found in plastics, pesticide laden foods, conventional meats, and chemical-containing cleaning and personal care products). You can get your hormone levels tested at a Naturopathic Doctor’s office, or come and speak to one of our supplements department specialists to learn more.
Excess Abdominal Weight. There is an undeniable link between excess fat and headaches. A 2003 study found that obese participants were more likely to get chronic daily headaches. This is because fat cells produce chemicals called cytokines which trigger inflammation, a stimulator for headaches and migraines. Following a healthy diet can be 80% of your weight loss plan—again, you can take our Lifewatchers course to find out about this!
Triggers. Often, headache and migraine triggers are individual and personal for each person. But there are a few common ones that have been shown to trigger headaches. Avoiding things like MSG, sodium, caffeine, colour additives, chocolate, and alcohol can really help you eliminate your pain. Try eliminating these items from your diet and slowly reintroducing them (just like food allergies) to see if they might be a trigger for you!
Low Antioxidant Levels. Antioxidants are phytochemicalsthat decrease inflammation and compensate for cellular damage caused by environmental toxins and free radicals. Without proper removal, free radicals cause oxidative stress and can trigger frequent headaches. You can enjoy antioxidant-rich foods like berries, tomatoes, dark leafy greens, beets, oregano, dill, rosemary, turmeric, peppermint, and omega-3 fatty acids to help raise your antioxidant levels!
There are many other things that might be causing your headaches, including sinus congestion, weather changes, environmental conditions, tight hair accessories for women, or a more serious condition. It is always a good idea to check with your doctor if you are concerned about your headaches or migraines and learn how they are affecting you. The above checklist is one way you can evaluate your symptoms and triggers and see if you can change your lifestyle to decrease your headaches and migraines.
Interested in learning more? We will be posting another piece on natural solutions to relieve headaches and migraines later this week that will take you through natural remedies that you can try instead of NSAIDS or over-the-counter medications. Join our email list here to get this and other great content. Stay tuned!
Katie has worked in the natural health & wellness industry for over 10 years and is currently studying to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. She is passionate about eating #feelgood food and recognized that this might look different for each and every person. She truly believes that in a healthy lifestyle, you can have your cake and eat your kale, too! Follow her on Instagram @katielmitts