The Food-based treatment of Headaches

By: Bronwyn Hill, Naturopathic Doctor

We all get them from time to time, & I wanted to share a little info about the most common types of headaches, their causes, and the amazing things you can do to prevent and treat them using food!

Keep in mind, the following recommendations are fairly general, and there is always benefit to taking a more individualized treatment approach if headaches are a recurring problem.  There are also many more possible causes for recurrent headaches, that should be properly assessed by a registered health care practitioner.

Be in touch, with any more questions!

Headache Number 1: The Blood sugar roller coaster & thirsty type….

One of the first questions I ask when clients discuss headaches – is if there is any relation between pain and eating habits.  For a lot of folks, skipping meals & eating irregularly, AND dehydration are a super common trigger for headaches.  The latter both cause your blood sugar to spike and dip…preferably we want to keep our blood sugar coasting along at a nice plateau throughout the day; this also helps keep our energy and mood stable.  For most folks, I recommend eating regularly – whatever your body is used to – our system and internal clock likes consistency and it gets upset otherwise.  Keep healthy snacks (raw or sprouted nuts, veggies and hummous, sliced fruit and nut butter) and water with you always to keep your blood sugar stable! Drink 8 (min.)-12 glasses of water per day, even more if you are physically active.

Headache Number 2: The high stress, tension headache…

Another one that is very common – and when we feel it we usually know why it’s happening!  Stress is unavoidable, we have to be conscious of our individual coping mechanisms – and pay attention to messages from the body (like pain between your ears, or behind your eyes!) that are trying to tell us to rest and relax! Tension headaches are typically rooted in chronic muscle hypertonicity of the neck, back, shoulders and jaw – secondary to elevated stress, poor posture and often nutrient deficiencies.  My go-to initial recommendation for tension/stress related headaches is magnesium.  This mineral is amazing at relaxing those tight traps and calming your mind – I recommend starting with about 300 mg of magnesium bisglycinate (best absorbed form), 1-2x /day.  If your bowels get a bit loose, back the dose off a bit.  Foods rich in magnesium include seaweeds, beans and lentils, buckwheat, millet, brown rice (any grain with the bran still intact), almonds, sesame seeds, and spirulina.  Refined foods, dairy, and fruit are poor sources of the mineral.  Good news for chocoholics – the cacao bean is one of richest sources of magnesium, so a bit of dark (80-85% cacao solids) chocolate is helpful.

Headache Number 3: The female foe, hormonal type headache….

O.K. ladies, I know some of you get this kind of headache a few times a month depending on where your menstrual cycle is at.  Sometimes they are low-grade, sometimes they are full-blown migraines; not fun either way! These ones happen when some of our sex hormones do some wonky stuff – estrogen & progesterone namely.  From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, the liver governs the smooth flow of qi (energy) and the female cycle; menstrual-related headaches (and PMS, acne, bowel changes) are said to be due to a stagnation of qi and blood.  In the end, this type of headache is usually a sign that the liver needs some loving – so that it can move that qi and keep our hormones in better check!  Foods that help support the liver include beets, all cruciferous veggies, sprouts, lemon, apple cider vinegar, and spices like turmeric, basil, fennel, ginger, garlic and onions.  Minimizing intake of caffeine, white flour and sugar can really help minimize menstrual headaches and PMS. If you are craving sweets as many do, keep lots of fruit on hand, dark chocolate, and a quick protein source like nuts.