Updated: Jul 16
If you've known me for a long time, you know that this is a dear topic for me: I've been suffering from migraines ever since the age of 3. I used to get really sick several times per month and I'd seen about every doctor, but nobody had a better solution than migraine medication (that stuff is really messing with your brain) or pain killers. In the end, it was in my early thirties, when I ditched the low fat fad (I always thought that fat is bad for your health -as the media have taught us right!?) and adopted a paleoistic or whole foods diet, incorporated lots of fatty fish and eliminated dairy, that my migraines stopped. I do still get them but that's very rare now (what a blessing)! For anyone who's ever suffered from migraines, I'm sure you can relate - it's the worst kind of pain and just feeling exhausted for days even after the attack feels like you've lost a week in your month...
I've done some research for you and listed the main different types of headaches linked to food, hormones, gut and stress, the most common ones are first:
Tension headache: ah yes, the good old tension headache, I guess almost everyone has had one of these? They are characterized by constant pain in one place or throughout the scalp, muscle pain with accompanying trigger points in the upper back or neck, and dizziness. Solution: self massage your new and back with a black roll. Get yourself some stress relief like an Epsom salt bath (also high in magnesium so double benefit) and/or see a chiropractor/osteopath who can help you remove blocages.
A menstrual headache feels a lot like a migraine and is caused by a sudden change (usually a drop) in estrogen levels. It tends to come up just before, during, or after menses when estrogen levels are low, but could also be mid-cycle when estrogen levels drop. Solution: Make sure you're getting enough vegetables (potassium), magnesium and B-Vitamins in your diet. This type of headache is likely linked to estrogen dominance.
Digestive headaches: are characterized by a dull pain at the forehead and a throbbing pain at the temples and can be accompanied by nausea or even vomiting. They tend to be caused by indigestion or gut issues. You might notice that they come up when you are constipated for instance. Solution: The best place to start here is to fix your digestion and gut. You might need professional help with this, but what you can try yourself are the tips I mention at the end of this article. Digestive enzymes can also be helpful with this.
Low blood sugar headaches: If you experience a drop in blood sugar, it quickly affects your brain and can lead to dizziness, confusion, and headaches. Solution: Lower your sugar, and (refined) carbohydrate intake (that also includes most fruit) and make sure you are eating enough healthy fats and proteins - every meal should have FFP: Fat, Fiber & Protein!.
If you have terrible throbbing pain that occurs on one side of the head near the eye, you're probably suffering from a cluster headache. Other symptoms can include flushing, teary eyes, and nasal congestion. They can occur several times per day over a period of weeks or months and may last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours at a time. Triggers include alcohol (if you’re already in a cluster period), a sudden rise in excitement or heat, or exercising in heat. Smokers or those who have been exposed to secondhand smoke during childhood have an increased risk. Researchers have found there to be increased activity in the hypothalamus during an attack and because they follow a cycle, these headaches may be tied to the body’s circadian rhythm. Solution: avoid triggers, improve blood circulation and your circadian rhythm: make sure you're getting enough light in the morning and try blue blocking glasses in the evening. The amino acid L-tyrosine or melatonin might help you with this too. Check with me or your practitioner on how to use melatonin correctly. These headaches could also be treated with oxygen therapy.
Sinus headache: If you have facial pain that seems to get worse as the day goes on and occurs over your nose/sinus area, you may be suffering from a sinus headache. This type of headache can be due to allergies (including food allergies), infections, or even nasal polyps. You might be surprised to hear that often this actually indicates candida (yeast) overgrowth in your intestines. Solution: Get tested (allergy test, stool panel and/or food sensitivity test, and follow a candida & gut healing protocol with a trained functional nutritionist. You can also try this candida quiz first and use journaling as a tool to identify potential food or other allergies or sensitivities.
Tooth grinding (bruxism) headaches: If you wake up in the morning with a headache and you know you clench your jaw or grind your teeth at night (or you’ve been diagnosed with a TMJ dysfunction), that may also be a cause of your headaches. And it can also happen during the day. But tooth grinding can also be linked to intestinal parasites. Solution: Check with your dentist to see whether your teeth are showing signs of excessive wear and get a protection to ease the pressure. See a chiropractor/osteopath who can help you remove tension on your jawline and neck. Do a stool panel to check if you have intestinal parasites and follow an elimination protocol with a trained practitioner or functional nutritionist.
In the end, it all comes back to your overall inflammation and stress levels though. If you're not sure which type of headache you have, I guess in general what worked for me was:
Eating a whole foods diet high in healthy fats (especially Omega 3 (EPA) from fish), vegetables and protein (avoid additives like sulfites, MSG, etc).
Eliminating food intolerances, as they are a huge culprit for migraines and headaches. It can be difficult to identify the offending food to the headache because there can be a delayed reaction. You may not get an inflammatory response from food until up to 72 hours later. The easiest thing to do is a food sensitivity test or an elimination diet. When you re-introduce the foods at an interval of 3 days per food, this will give you enough time to spot which food is potentially causing a problem.
Drink enough water with appropriate minerals
Take care of your body and mind!
Low levels of B vitamins have been linked to headaches and migraines, particularly vitamins B6 and B12. I personally use this vitamin B (and mineral) complex (use code ABE803 to order) to keep healthy levels of B vitamins which are critical also in overall hormone balance and liver detoxification. Magnesium deficiency can be another cause for headaches. I recommend magnesium in a glycinate form (offers the highest bioavailability).
As you can see, addressing a headache or migraine requires digging deeper into your health. Once you address the root cause, you may discover that not only will your headache or migraine improve, but many other health symptoms will disappear with it.