Everyone suffers from headaches and migraines at some time in their life, but for some people their life can be ruined by cluster headaches or chronic migraines. Although the types are physiologically different there are many similarities in the nutritional management. Other factors can also contribute to headaches and migraines.
Have small well balanced meals little and often, with small satisfying snacks is the best plan for eating. One of the most common triggers is low blood sugar levels. Your blood sugar may occasionally drop a little too low or drop too quickly which can trigger headaches and migraines. One of the worst things you can do is eat very sweet food on an empty stomach. This can cause the sugar level to rise too quickly to which the body reacts by providing more insulin, the hormone that breaks down sugar, causing the sugar level to fall again. When you feel low in sugar eat something that is both high in fibre and sweet. This could be fruit, a slice of wholemeal bread with a topping of banana or honey, roast ham or a flapjack. It is advisable to keep snacks like these readily available at work and at home.
Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach, or when you are dehydrated, exhausted or stressed can lead to an enormous headache or migraine the next day. Champagne and red wine which are rich in phenolic compounds are the worst offenders. Next in line is white wine which is very acidic. If you know which drinks affect you more then avoid them or drink plenty of water before, during and after. If you still wake up with a headache try a cup of dandelion tea.
Many people find that the more caffeine they drink, the greater the chance of developing a headache or migraine. Coffee is the main offender here, but caffeine is also present in tea. Caffeine intake in general should be no more than three cups of tea or coffee in a day. This should be reduced if coffee affects you adversely. If you like coffee first thing in the morning then try having it just at weekends, rather than every day. Try other hot drinks to replace coffee such as herbal tea – peppermint, camomile, cranberry and boiled water which you can add a slice of lemon. If you decide to cut caffeine out of your diet entirely, you may suffer from withdrawal headache. This may develop approximately 18 hours after your caffeine fix as your body is being deprived of toxins. You may prefer to lower your caffeine dependence cup by cup over a few days. Also having caffeine when you are hungry, stressed or totting up to ten coffees a day then having another before you go into a stressful meeting can be a trigger for headaches and migraines. This can be caffeine in tea, coffee, cola or chocolate.
There are also other foods that have also proved to be triggers in some people. The foods include processed meats, such as salami and other sausages, mangetout and the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is found in a lot of ready meals, bottled sauces, crisps and often found in Chinese food. Eating fresh food will mean that you avoid MSG.
Aged cheese can be a trigger. This includes cheddar, blue, brie, parmesan, gruyère and Swiss. Fresh cheese that hasn’t through the process of ageing is a more preferable choice. For instance farmer’s, cottage, cream, American, risotto and mozzarella.
Aged cheese contains more of a substance called Tyramine is formed in foods as they age or are fermented. It comes from the amino acid Tyrosine.
Nitrates are the substances that are added to meat products in order to give them a pink or red colour to preserve them. Unfortunately they can trigger migraines / headaches in particularly sensitive people. Nitrates are found in many sausages, chipolata, chorizo, hot dogs, salami and cooked meats such as corned beef. If you find that these trigger then avoid processed meats that are coloured red, instead try cold cuts of beef, chicken or turkey. Don’t forget to include the fish in your diet.
Lactose may be a trigger that can cause severe headaches. This occurs when the digestive system is deficient in an enzyme called lactase which breaks down lactose found in dairy products for example cream, milk, butter, yogurt, cheese and ice-cream. For many people all that needs to be done is to avoid having too many foods that are high in lactose. You need to be careful that you don’t compromise your calcium status by cutting out dairy products. Consult your own doctor if you are concerned.
Research has displayed results that the metabolism of people who suffer from migraines is slightly different from those who don’t suffer and it seems that foods that are high in copper can cause problems. These foods include shellfish, nuts, chocolate and wheatgerm found in wholemeal bread and other wholewheat products, however you would need to eat quite a lot of these coppery foods before a problem occurred. Rather than completely removing these foods from your diet just reduce the amounts you have.
Sleep is also very a important part of your health schedule, irregular sleep patterns can often contribute to migraines. Over sleeping at weekends can induce migraines as much as under sleeping due to stress. Try to get the same regular amount of sleep each night.
Keep a diary of what you are eating and what you are doing to find out if there are any triggers. Some trigger foods can cause a migraine or headache within 20 minutes of eating it, whereas a stressful meeting wouldn’t cause a migraine for a few hours.
Body weight – try to keep your weight within the ideal range for your height. Bring overweight can adversely affect your blood pressure and this heightens the potential for migraines headaches.
Water – are you dehydrated? Dehydration commonly brings on both a headache and poor concentration.
Relax – it is vital to reduce both physical and emotional stress and taking time out each day even it’s only 15 minutes a day. You will make a great difference to your wellbeing. Even if you can’t identify that it’s stress that provokes your headaches or migraines, you should still take the stress / relaxation aspects of your life seriously.
I hope this information helps as migraines and severe headaches can have a huge impact on your life.