December 1, 2011

Headaches. 6 ways to avoid Pain-killers.

Kate Leinweber, B.Sc R.H.N.

I hate headaches and have done everything I can to understand how to prevent them!

I fear that pain in the neck; the earliest sign of a big headache.

I don’t know what it is, but when I start to feel a headache come on I immediately run for the big pain-killers. I have this deep anxiety over it becoming a full fledged headache and have an intense need to stop it in its tracks.  What is up with that? When I sprained my ankles at the start of every basketball season I never took pain killers. When I fell on my front steps last winter and my tailbone ached for months I just handled it. But when it is a tension in my neck that reverberates pain up to my head threatening to blur my vision, and generally make me a basket-case I cannot open my pill box fast enough!

I have always had headaches on and off. From allergies as a child, and when I went to University they became chronic stress-related pains in the neck. I started taking ibuprofen almost daily if not multiple times a day. Not the best way to deal with pain in my body. After a few years of that I found an essential oil blend of lavender and mint that became my best friend.  And watch out if I didn’t have it. I have some friends that can vouch for the monster that came out if I was not prepared with my “headache roll-on”.

We all have our own way of dealing with or disguising pain in our bodies.

There are whole books written about how pain is a message from the body that something is wrong; be that emotional, physical or spiritual. I don’t want to put pharmaceuticals in my body, but sometimes I just don’t want to deal with the pain. My Naturopath tells me to invite my headaches to get bigger. Ya, thanks. I’ve done that, and it was not an enjoyable experience. I know he is right, and that there is something I’m avoiding by taking the pain-killers. But, with my avoidance of pharmaceuticals, I decided instead to take the circuitous route and discover how many ways I can prevent my headaches from happening in the first place!

Of course stress is a huge factor.

I practice yoga, meditate and breath deeply during stressful times, and all of those things certainly help. (A headstand is a great way to fend off the early signs of a headache for me.) When a headache is your weak point you need more than a few hours a week in a yoga class for true prevention. I have gone from daily headaches to less than one a month through integrating the recommendations below alongside a yoga and meditation practice. Still I am challenged when a headache comes. I start with essential oils of peppermint and lavender rubbed all over my neck and temples. If that doesn’t work then I try White Willow Bark. This is the herb that acetaminophen or Tylenol comes from. And if all else fails I call in the big guns and take an advil liquid gel. They are the easiest on your system and must be taken with food.

Here are 6 concrete preventative measures that work.

1.  Blood Sugar Imbalances – Eat Regularly.

Hypoglycemia is a condition where the body is unable to properly regulate blood sugar balance.  Symptoms of hypoglycemia are triggered when blood sugar is too low and include: hunger, dizziness, fatigue, headache, irritability, and fainting.

The primary way to alleviate headaches caused by hypoglycemia is simply to eat.  Eating habits to support balanced blood sugar levels include small meals every 2 hours.  All meals or snacks containing sugar or carbohydrates should be consumed alongside a protein source.

Diabetes, or a high blood glucose level can also cause headaches. Someone with diabetes should properly monitor their blood sugar levels and follow any prescriptions from their doctor.  In addition avoiding refined carbohydrates, focusing on whole grains and combining carbohydrates with protein and/or fat at each meal can help keep blood sugar levels more even.

If experiencing a headache after consuming a very sugary meal.  Try drinking a large glass of water with a pinch of Himalayan salt.  Miso soup, pickles and anything salty can also help.

2.  Food Allergies/Sensitivities – Understanding Food Addiction.

Food allergies and sensitivities can be expressed in a variety of symptoms including headaches.  Keep a detailed food diary and record when you experience a headache.   An elimination diet removing suspected foods from the diet for 6 weeks and then reintroducing them can also provide insight into headache triggers. Common allergens are: wheat (gluten), dairy, eggs, corn, peanuts and pork. Often the food you eat the most is the food you are allergic to.

3.  Dehydration – Drink warm water with lemon.

The amount of hydration needed varies from person to person and depends on the water and fat content of their foods.  Generally speaking about 6-8 glasses of water a day is a good amount to aim for.  Water that is room temperature is easier on our stomach and the lemon helps us to digest it. Noticing the color of urine is another indicator of dehydration.  If urine is dark and yellow it is a sign to drink some water! Remember that caffeine is dehydrating so if you are drinking coffee or black tea you must increase your water intake!

4.  Imbalanced Hormones – Eat the Good Fats.

Hormonal issues take longer to identify and correct.  If headaches occur on a regular time schedule then hormones may be the culprit.  Balanced Fat intake is crucial to hormonal balance as well as minerals deficienciess can influence tension headaches associated to hormonal imbalance. Healthy fats include fish oils, nuts and seeds, avocados, coconuts, bone broths, dairy, eggs, and meats from grass-fed animals.

5.  Improper Fat Metabolism – Love Your Liver.

Liver headaches are strong and painful; usually called migraines.  These can arise anywhere from 2-4hours after the unbalanced food is consumed.  Notice eating fatty foods on an empty stomach such as anything fried for breakfast, eggs, cheese, and sometimes meats. If this scenario applies to you try drinking lemon tea and always have lemon in water before meals. Lemon helps the liver and gallbladder digest fats properly. Sleep is also a great remedy for these headaches.

6.  Preservatives and Additives – Fake Food. No Thanks!

Mono-sodium glutamate (MSG), Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), Sodium Nitrate/Sodium Nitrate, and Food coloring Yellow #6 have all been seen to trigger headaches. Tryamine is a vaso-active amino acid found in foods and can be in higher amounts in aged, preserved, or are not fresh.  Foods high in tryamine are:  red wine, aged cheeses, processed meats, peanuts, broad beans, peas and lentils.

Read your labels and keep a food journal to see if there is a connection between certain food additives and headaches.

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