Headaches and Food Triggers
In the past 10 years, I have treated hundreds of cases of migraine headaches in my clinic. Most recently, I met with a young lady who was having headaches so severe that she required hospitalization and IV medications to help control the pain.
In the large majority of patients, identifying food triggers have been a major factor in getting the headaches to resolve. In the case below, gluten played a big role in the genesis of headaches…
Factors to Consider to Alleviate Headaches
Headaches come in many forms (tension, migraine, cluster, etc.) and have many different causes. Some stem from postural imbalances, tension, and muscle spasms, some from environmental allergies and sinus congestion. Poor nutrition, and food intolerances can also cause or contribute to headaches. Common food triggers for headache include:
- wheat and other gluten containing grains
- caffeine (coffee, tea, OTC remedies, energy drinks, etc)
- citrus fruits
- hot dogs and other processed meats (nitrates)
- monosodium glutamate
- aspartame (aka – Nutrasweet)
- Splenda® (aka – sucralose)
- ice cream
- alcoholic beverages
Additionally, certain chemicals in processed foods (marinades, soy sauce, lunch meats, etc.) can trigger a neuro chemical release in the brain that causes the onset of headache. Finding potentiating foods for headaches can often times be difficult because the onset of symptoms does not always occur immediately after eating the trigger food. Successful treatment for food induced headaches is dependent on identifying the culprit factor. A number of laboratory tests can be employed to help find food based triggers.
Non Food Factors
Muscle tension, stress, sedentary lifestyle, and excessive computer work all contribute to muscle spasm in the neck and shoulders. Chronic spasms can lead to long term postural changes that contribute to and cause headaches. When headaches are caused by postural problems, muscular imbalances, and joint restrictions, chiropractic treatment is very effective. Recent research points out that chiropractic care is one of the most efficacious treatments for headaches and chronic neck pain when compared to other forms of treatment.
Chemicals in the environment can also contribute to migraine. Perfumes, household cleaners, shampoos, etc.
Nutritional Deficiencies Play a Role
In cases where nutritional deficiencies are present, supplementation can be very beneficial. Headaches can be related to a variety of different nutrient deficiencies including the following:
Because the standard American diet is full of nutrient depleted, chemical laden, processed foods, nutritional deficiencies are common. Proper laboratory testing should be performed to rule out nutrient deficiencies as a contributing factor to headaches. There are a variety of over the counter medications that can be taken to alleviate headache pain. However, none of these medications address the actual cause of the headache. In addition, a number of them can have unwanted side effects such as stomach ulceration and bleeding as well as decreased liver and kidney function. When taken on a regular basis, many headache medicines can also cause deficiencies of nutrients like vitamin C, CoQ10, folic acid, and potassium. Long term medication use for the treatment of chronic headaches is rarely necessary if a thorough diagnostic work up is performed.
Remember that it is important to have headaches evaluated by a professional because they can be symptoms of deeper and in some cases, life threatening problems. There are a number of factors that contribute to the onset of headaches. I have seen cases where patients actually suffered with 3 types of headaches at the same time. Accurate headache assessment cannot be accomplished in a 10 minute office visit; it takes time for the doctor to be able to ask the right questions as well as assess the history of the patient, and determine what types of tests (if any) need to be performed to aid in the proper diagnosis.
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- Hadjivassiliou M, et al. Headache and CNS white matter abnormalities associated with gluten sensitivity. Neurology 2001 Feb 13;56(3):385-8.
- Patel RM, et al. Popular sweetener sucralose as a migraine trigger. Headache. 2006 Sep;46(8):1303-4.
- Millichap JG, et al. The diet factor in pediatric and adolescent migraine. Pediatr Neurol. 2003 Jan;28(1):9-15.
- Haas M, et al. Dose response for chiropractic care of chronic cervicogenic headache and associated neck pain: a randomized pilot study. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2004 Nov-Dec;27(9):547-53.
- Boline PD, et al. Spinal manipulation vs. amitriptyline for the treatment of chronic tension-type headaches: a randomized clinical trial. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1995 Mar-Apr;18(3):148-54.
- Bronfort G, et al. Efficacy of spinal manipulation for chronic headache: a systematic review. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2001 Sep;24(7):457-66.
- Mauskop A, et al. Serum ionized magnesium levels and serum ionized calcium/ionized magnesium ratios in women with menstrual migraine. Headache. 2002 Apr;42(4):242-8.
- Bianchi A, et al. Role of magnesium, coenzyme Q10, riboflavin, and vitamin B12 in migraine prophylaxis. Vitam Horm. 2004;69:297-312
Did going gluten free eliminate your headaches or help restore your health in anyway? Help someone else by sharing your story in the comment box below…