You Are What You Eat: How Headaches and Diet May Be More Linked Than You Think

Headaches and Diet

Among all the symptoms and conditions that affect the human body, headaches are definitely very commonly encountered. Most people suffer from a headache at least once in their lifetime – but the truth is that few of us actually understand how headaches “function”.

Headaches can be caused by a wide variety of medical conditions and they can be treated in multiple ways. And yet, the most frequent way in which we choose to treat a headache is by popping a pain killer.

Is this the best option or is there something more that can be done to treat headaches? Even more than that, how can headaches be prevented and what is their relationship to what we eat?

Believe it or not, the connection between the two of them may actually be stronger than many people would imagine.

Headaches: the Explanation

Not many people know the fact that the pain felt when experiencing a headache is not a “normal” kind of pain in the sense that it is not caused by the same things that cause pain in other areas of the body.

The brain itself does not “feel” pain because it has absolutely no pain receptors. But, when a headache occurs due to various reasons, the membrane covering the pain will show certain pain-sensitive spots that become painful.

There are 9 areas in the head and in the neck (certain types of neck pain fall under the “headache” category as well) and each of them can become painful under certain circumstances.

Classifying headaches is a tremendous job, as specialists have identified no less than 200 types of headaches. Some of them are not threatening in any way, but some of them can actually pose risks for one’s life.

Understanding headaches in general can prevent you from suffering from extended periods of pain and it can even save your life in certain cases.

There are two large groups of headaches: the primary ones and the secondary ones. The primary ones constitute for 90% of all the types of headaches there are and the secondary ones make up for the rest.

Most of the primary headaches are not dangerous and they do not pose life-threatening risks for those who experience them.

However, secondary headaches are usually more dangerous than that and they can be caused by brain bleeding, brain infection or even by brain tumors that have to be diagnosed as soon as possible.

There are certain “red flags” one should take into consideration when it comes to secondary headaches.

They are very frequently referred to as “SSNOOP”, which stands for the initial letters of the other symptoms that come along with the headaches and which could be the sign of a serious issue. Here is a list of these symptoms:

  • Systemic symptoms (such as weight loss or fever for example)
  • Secondary risk factors (such as a disease that may be underlying: HIV for example)
  • Neurologic symptoms (such as confusion, loss of consciousness and so on)
  • Onset (when it is abrupt and/or when it happens during a split-second)
  • Older (people over the age of 50)
  • Previous headaches (the history of the headache, when it appeared first, how the pattern changed and so on)

How Headaches Are Treated

According to the nature of the headache, there are many varying treatments: drugs, therapy or even surgery in the worst case scenarios.

However, as it was also mentioned before, most of the people simply take a pain killer and they do not start to investigate further into the nature of their pain until much later on (sometimes, too late).

In certain cases, people may need other types of drugs than the common aspirin or ibuprofen, but this kind of medication is not sold over the counter and it needs previous examinations and a prescription from a doctor.

Even more, massages, small amounts of caffeine (such as in the case of migraines), relaxation techniques, meditation, exercising – all these things can really make the difference for someone who is experiencing headaches.

So, What Is The Relationship Between Headaches and Diet?

It may be difficult to believe, but the truth is that there are certain types of food that can actually trigger headaches.

Avoiding the following foods for as much as possible (and even eliminating them completely from one’s diet) can be a very good choice if you believe that your headaches may be related to your diet:

Alcohol (particularly red wines). In most of the cases, red wines and many other types of alcohol contain sulfites that are used as preservatives, which can be a cause for headaches.

Even more, alcohol increases the blood flow to the brain and it can also lead to dehydration – which is also a cause of headaches.

This is actually an ambivalent drink when it comes to headaches. Many studies have shown that coffee can help with certain types of migraines. However, bear in mind that at the same time, coffee can be addictive and having more than 1-2 cups of coffee per day can lead to experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you are not having your “dose”.

Old cheese. This is probably one of the most surprising foods that can cause headaches. Not many of you may know this, but the older the cheese is, the higher the chance that you develop headaches as a result of eating it.

Apparently, when the cheese gets older, a substance called tyramine is formed and this is something that could lead to headaches. Cheddar cheese, gouda, parmesan, blue cheese – these are among the most commonly encountered types of old cheese.

Soy sauce. It is not the soy sauce itself that causes headaches, but the food additive called monosodium glutamate which is found in soy sauce and many other foods.

MSG (as it is sometimes referred to) can cause severe headaches, cramps and diarrhea and when it is combined with soy sauce, which is also very salty, the headaches can be even worse.



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