Headaches – Nutrition and Dietary Solutions

woman with headacheAs a chiropractor I’ve seen my fair share of patients suffering with headaches. While manipulation frequently worked well most patients also needed a nutritional approach to control and manage their pain.

I want to look at the three most common types of headaches and how I would nutritionally manage them.

Tension Headache

The signs and symptoms of tension headaches include:

  • Dull head pain
  • Tightness or pressure on the sides and back of head and forehead
  • Pain usually on both sides of head
  • Tenderness in back of neck or upper shoulders

Tension headaches were the most common type of headache I saw in practice and they also seemed to respond the best to chiropractic manipulation. However there are often different types of problems that can contribute to tensions headaches. Stress is an obvious trigger and a good meditative practice is very helpful.

Meditation for Tension Headaches

I have found an easy practice is a simple breathing technique for relaxation. Start by breathing in for six seconds and then breathe out for six seconds. Do this for 10-20 minutes at least once a day and it is very effective at reducing stress.

Diet for Tension Headaches

Hypoglycemia is another problem that contributes to tension headaches. Many people find they get their headaches after drinking a soda or having a sweet desert. Eating 5-6 smaller meals a day with low glycemic foods can be very effective for some people.

Supplements for Tension Headaches

A friend of mine was seeing a chiropractor for his tension headaches. While he did see some relief the symptoms the headaches would keep returning once he stopped treatments. I gave him a bottle of powdered calcium magnesium with a total of 320 mg of magnesium to take before going to bed at night. Taking this daily he found that his headaches went away. For many people supplementation with 400 mg of magnesium can be very helpful. As we now know many people are magnesium deficient.

There is some evidence that low vitamin D levels can be relate to tension headaches and supplementation with vitamins D of 1000-1500 iu along with 1000-1500 mg of calcium can be helpful.

Migraine Headaches

Migraines may have 4 distinct stages:

Prodrome Stage occurs 24-48 before migraine and it signs and symptoms may include:

  • Depression
  • Irritation
  • Constipation
  • Stiff neck
  • Food cravings

Aura Stage occurs before or during the headache and its symptoms include:

  • Visual disturbance
  • Loss of vision
  • Physical sensations such as pins and needles in arms and legs
  • Speech difficulties

Attack Stage usually lasts 4-72 hours and signs and symptoms include:

  • Pain classically on one side of head however may occur on both sides.
  • Pain is pulsating and/or throbbing
  • Vomiting
  • Visual difficulties

Postdrome Stage occur after pain has left and signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling of being exhausted or tired following resolution of headache

Migraine diet

Migraines frequently are difficult to control and treat. I’ve found that diet can often contribute to migraines. Some people find that an elimination diet is effective in finding offending foods that contribute to their migraines. While this approach takes patience it is often very effective at controlling chronic migraines. Certain foods are much more common than others in contributing to migraines an sometimes eliminating only these may be an effective solution. Try eliminating oranges, eggs, dairy and wheat. This may be enough to help control the migraines and is an easy start at elimination.

Nutrition for Migraine

For nutritional prevention I like to use 400 mg a day of magnesium glycinate taken 200 mg in the morning and 200 mg in the evening before bedtime. I also like to use 2000 mg a day of fish oil, a complete vitamin B and 200 mg of CoQ10 a day.

I also find chewing 500 mg of niacin during the aura stage to be helpful for some people. Be warned however some people find the itching and flushing from niacin to be very uncomfortable. It may be best to build up to make sure you can tolerate niacin side effects.

Cluster Headaches

There are two types of cluster headaches. One occurs on an episodic basis with headaches lasting 4-16 weeks with symptom free periods of 6-16 weeks. The second type is the chronic type where this are no long symptom free periods

The pain is usually in the temples or around the eyes. This pain can be extremely severe and incapacitating. It is often accompanied with eye redness and tears as well as nasal congestion.

I did supplement these patients with 300 mg magnesium a day and also found manipulation to be effective in helping prevent the headaches. There is some evidence that melatonin is low in patients with cluster headaches and during attacks 9-10 mg/day help to shorten the length of the attack.

So if you suffer from headaches remember there is often help to be found in proper diet and nutrition.

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About John Montague DC

John Montague DC is the owner of WebVitamins. He is active in the industry and is currently president of the NPA East.

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