Headaches are common in all age groups- from young to old.While most of us take simple over-the-counter painkillers to suppress the headache, in this way we are only treating a symptom and not the CAUSE. Even as you and I look up the internet for possible reasons of headaches, we may come across more generalized trigger such as caffeine, hormones, certain foods, alcohol, etc. But actually no one is telling us the simple fact that headaches are connected with the stomach health. Faulty food intake patterns involving stale or heavily processed foods is the most important factor responsible for headaches. Indigestion resulting from such foods leads to formation of gases that exert negative effects on the nervous system causing pain
Migraine causes a throbbing pain in the head which is unlike regular headache often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. It is precipitated by change in levels of certain chemical in the brain. Serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates pain responses to nervous system may drop during migraine attacks resulting in release of other neuropeptides that cause pain.
A number of factors may trigger migraines, including:
1. Hormonal changes in women- It has been proposed that changes in estrogen levels kicks off migraine attacks in susceptible women specially around the time of the menstrual cycle, menopause, pregnancy and while on oral contraceptives
2. Foods- The list of foods that may cause headache varies from person to person. Every individual has to discover their own triggers by maintaining a detailed record. However, research back in 1983 on children with frequent migraines showed that the following list of foods when eliminated from the diet lead to remission of symptoms while re-introducing them resulted in recurrence of migraine attacks
- dairy products*
- citrus fruits
- wheat (bread, pasta, etc.)
- nuts and peanuts
* Includes skim or whole cow’s milk, goat’s milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.
** Includes beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, etc.
In vulnerable individuals, fasting or skipping meals also causes migraine
- Tyramine containing foods – Tyramine is natural product of protein breakdown and is higher in high protein foods that undergo ageing such as aged cheese. It develops in food as it is kept for longer time and hence is not mentioned on the food label.
- Food additives- Chemicals present in foods such as sweetener aspartame and the preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG) may trigger migraines.
- Alcohol- Alcoholic beverages often cause migraine headaches especially red wine.
- Stress- It is very common to experience migraine headaches when faced with stressful situations at work or in personal life, For example a crucial meeting/presentation, upcoming seminars/tests/exams, etc.
- Sensory stimuli- Some individuals are very sensitive to bright light as in too much sunlight or even very loud sounds. These may cause migraine pains.
- Disturbed sleep- Too much or too little sleep may cause migraines in some people
- Caffeine –Caffeine may trigger or alleviate headaches for different individuals. <200mg of caffeine may be consumed everyday but higher doses may cause over-stimulation of the brain.
Treatment for Migraines
So the right approach to treating migraine is by making efforts to maintain a healthy gut environment. Healthy food and lifestyle habits can help maintain a healthy stomach which in turn will prevent headaches.
Low fat , vegan diets have shown to be very effective in reducing migraine attacks.
- Vegan diets contains more of plant based foods which are rich in antioxidants
- Vegan diets are dairy free and dairy products are known to be common triggers
- Vegan diets eliminate meat products which are inflammatory
Tips to treat a migraine attack immediately
- Drink 2-3 glasses of lukewarm water
- Caffeine’s role in migraines is dichotomous. For some individuals, caffeine can provide relief from migraine attack with a dose of one to two cups of strong coffee at the first sign of an attack.
- Research has shown that calcium supplements may help to prevent as well as treat migraines (1,200 to 1,600 milligrams of elemental calcium).
- Lying down in a quiet, dark room, and sleeping can help.
- Use hot or cold compresses, and massage the blood vessels at the temples
If we really intend to get rid of migraine completely, then one must look for natural remedies. Taking pain killers is not a permanent solution and has side effects in the long term. The link between food intake and the brain chemistry is not new and is definitely worth careful consideration.