Perhaps the most challenging part of having headaches or migraines is that they recur... unexpectantly... at the worst times ever. Often we learn to accept them as a regular part of our being and just live with it. What if I were to tell you that you do not have to feel this way forever? That pain free, or at least a life with less pain, is totally possible? It's true! These suggestions are not quick fixes, or bandaid solutions (that's what drugs are often for), but they can help reduce the severity and the frequency of your head pain over time.
- The first step is to keep a headache journal to notice any triggers or trends that may exist. Some of these things (like food sensitivities or hormone imbalances) may be easier to spot with my help. It's important to keep track as soon as possible so you don't forget the details: what you ate or drank in the last day, what you were doing before it started, where were you, how intense is the pain on a scale of 1-10, where is the pain?
Common triggers: cheese, sugar, caffeine, alcohol/red wine, stress, lack of sleep, MSG, nitrites (deli meat, hot dogs), neck/shoulder tension, low blood sugar, allergies/sinus congestion, perfumes/scents/chemicals, dehydration, thyroid imbalance, constipation, or a medication side effect (e.g. birth control pills)
Location is important: different types of headaches manifest in different locations; one that is caused by neck and shoulder tension is usually at the base of the skull. Here, I often turn to Traditional Chinese Medicine to help me determine which organ system might be underfunctioning, thus contributing to your headaches. For example, pain at the temples or on the forehead above the eyes is related to the gall bladder; while pain at the top of the head can be attributed to the liver.
- Isolate the triggers
If you are unable to figure out your triggers with a journal, it might help to do either an Elimination Diet or a Food Sensitivity Test to have a clearer picture of your body's reactions.
- Improve Your Digestion
You know my stance that digestive health impacts every other aspect of our health. In particular, a sluggish digestive capacity can contribute to headaches because of toxic burden (not taking out the trash often enough) and recycled hormones. Furthermore, headaches could be a sign that we aren't getting enough of certain nutrients because our intestines aren't absorbing them properly. To stimulate your digestion I make several different person-specific recommendations that often include ground flax seeds, magnesium, increased vegetable intake, and probiotics.
- Replace nutrients that are known to prevent headaches
- B vitamins - especially Riboflavin, however, I always use B vitamins together since they work synergistically
- Magnesium - 600mg per day (can go higher)
- Fish or Flax Seed Oil - 2000mg per day, natural antiinflammatory
- Herbal remedies to prevent or reduce severity
- Feverfew - 25mg per day, a natural antiinflammatory (do not take if using blood thinners)
- Butterbur - 150mg per day (divided), particularly useful for allergy associated headaches
- Eat healthy, balanced meals to balance blood sugar. Choose proteins and fats with your vegetables in order to keep your energy release more stable.
- Physical means to relieve neck and shoulder tension. Acupuncture, stretching, chiropractic adjustments, osteopathy, massage therapy. Caution here, some therapists can be a bit too aggressive with the neck. In my opinion, treatments should be gentle and not create more pain.
I have found this 10 minute stretching video very helpful (click here)
- Stress management
- Women, in particular, tend to store stress in their neck and shoulders (men more so in their hips). Many people find that lowering stress levels improves their headaches. Your stress lowering tactics may be unique to you, or could be more typical: deep breathing, meditation, yoga, running.
It's my belief that we shouldn't accept regular pain as status quo. Symptoms are your body's way of communicating with you, now it's time to listen.
Have a lovely day,