As we know headaches are among the most common everyday neurological symptoms experienced by so many and occur for numerous reasons. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics women are significantly more affected than men suggesting that there may be a hormonal imbalance related to the fluctuating hormones that occur during the cycle.
Generally, headaches can be triggered by a combination of factors during a vulnerable time – like stress, sleep deprivation, menstrual cycle, compromised immune system or dehydration – so understanding your unique personal triggers is vital in becoming an expert in your own treatment plan. Every person is different and has their own particular combination of factors that may contribute towards the onset of a headache. (1,2, 3)
Keeping a food, symptom and menstrual/hormonal cycle diary is one of the most useful tools when trying to monitor, discover triggers and treat headaches.
- Document any foods eaten that regularly precede a headache.
- Eliminate those foods and observe the symptoms.
For our purposes we will focus on the hormonal related headaches and our goal here is to give you some tips and strategies to help alleviate the symptoms, recognise triggers and warning signs so that ultimately you can prevent, prepare for or even just try to minimise the effects.
Diet seems to be an extremely common trigger for headaches and may even at times coincide with hormonal fluctuations creating the “perfect storm”. Look at the lifestyle factors involved and what YOU can do on your own to support your body and help prevent or minimise the effects of the onset of a headache as it approaches.
According to Sun-Edelstein and Mauskop – “patients will not have a significant improvement in the frequency and severity of their headaches unless lifestyle modifications are made” (1,2)
Common dietary headache/migraine triggers have been linked to foods like chocolate, cured meats, sausages, aged cheeses, alcohol and caffeine. Let’s investigate further and see whether there are certain foods that can be added or avoided when you feel a headache coming on. (1,3)
Some common Foods to avoid and why:
Cured meats, sausages or smoked fish are common dietary triggers for headaches. These foods may contain nitrates and nitrites; common preservatives used in foods to prevent botulism and to increase shelf life. Some people seem to be more sensitive to these substances and may develop headaches quite soon after or within 24hrs of consumption.
Caffeine affects everyone differently. For some; really small doses can serve as a catalyst for a headache whereas others may need a much bigger dose to cause any symptoms at all. Remember that caffeine is not only found in coffee but resides in other forms like: chocolate, tea and energy drinks – so if you are going to avoid caffeine it’s a good idea to avoid all forms of caffeine. Great coffee alternatives include – dandelion, matcha and turmeric; which can all be enjoyed as a latte with your choice of milk.
Red wine has commonly been identified as a trigger, this could be due to its high levels of histamine and polyphenols. However, all alcohol may have a detrimental effect on migraines as they serve to dehydrate and may contribute to a magnesium deficiency which have both been identified as factors when it comes to headaches.
Chocolate is a very common dietary trigger – containing dietary amines that seem to affect many people. In a double blind placebo clinical study, participants who suffered from migraines were challenged; one group of participants were given a chocolate bar whilst the control was given a placebo. 41% of the chocolate group experienced a headache – whilst 0% in the placebo group did; highlighting the impact that chocolate has on the onset of headaches. Other common high amine foods include – aged cheese, smoked salmon, beer, yeast extract, wine and fermented foods.
Diet drinks and foods containing the artificial sweetener, aspartame have been linked in research as a trigger for migraine sufferers. Avoiding all food and drink which contain aspartame is a good idea.
3 simple strategies that may help alleviate the onset of a headache:
- Eating regularly – preferably good quality protein rich meals with lots of fresh (organic if possible) fruit and vegetables
- Eating lots of magnesium rich foods, supplement if you are deficient under the guidance of your health care practitioner
Hydration – so important!
Most of us require at least 8 glasses of pure water per day but take note that if you are exercising vigorously and if it is an extremely hot day – your requirements will be higher. Many of us believe that we are drinking far more than we actually do each day – so start recording your water intake and make sure you are drinking enough. Recently one of my clients installed a “water reminder” alarm on her phone and increased her daily water intake significantly which in turn reduced the frequency of her headaches.
Good quality protein rich meals – often.
Hypoglycaemia (a drop in blood sugar) is a common preventable cause of headaches. Eating good quality protein rich meals together with fresh vegetables (leafy greens – for magnesium) is a great preventable measure that can be taken.
Remember that nutritional deficiencies may also contribute to headaches. Interestingly a common nutrient deficiency involved in menstrual migraines is magnesium. Studies have shown that migraine sufferers have “low brain magnesium during migraine attacks.” According to Facchinetti F et al; in a double blind placebo controlled study, magnesium administered to a group from Day 15 of their cycle for several months was not only after 2 months found to reduce frequency of headaches; but also improved premenstrual symptoms.
Magnesium is a nutrient that acts as a relaxant, it dilates blood vessels and plays an important role in so many physiological reactions within our body.
So what foods contain magnesium?
Almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, brazil nuts, pine nuts, flaxseeds (always choose fresh and raw), legumes, whole grains, bananas, leafy greens, tofu, avocado.
Most importantly make sure you are eating a diet rich in fresh whole organic foods.
Please speak to one of our nutritionists or naturopaths if you feel you are deficient in magnesium and require supplementation.
Our team AMC may be able to help with hormone related headaches – so give us a call once you have documented your headache triggers. If you notice a cyclical pattern; there is a good chance that your headaches may be related to your fluctuating hormonal levels.
Don’t suffer in silence – give us a call
- Hechtman L,2012, Clinical Naturopathic Medicine, Elsevier Australia, chp 18, pgs. 1214-32
- Richardstark J et al, 2007, Management of Migraine in Australian general practice, MJA 187(3), 142-6
- Sun-Edelstein C, Mauskop A, 2009, Foods and Supplements in the management of migraine headaches, Clin J Pain. Jun; 25(5); 446-52
- Ramadan MN et al, 1989, Low brain magnesium in migraine, Headache, 29; 590-3
- Martins IP, Gouveia RG, 2007, More on Water and migraine, Cephalalgia, 27:372-4
- Millichap JG, Yee MM, 2003, The diet factor in paediatric and adolescent migraine, paediatric neurol, 28 (1): 9-15
- Bianchi A et al, 2004, Role of magnesium, coenzyme Q10, riboflavin, and vitamin B12 in migraine prophylaxis, Vitam Horm 69: 297-312
- Facchinetti F et al,1991, Magnesium prophylaxis of menstrual migraine: Effects on intracellular Magnesium, Headache: The journal of head and Face Pain, vol 33, issue 5.
- Van Den Eeden SK, et al, 1994, Aspartame ingestion and headaches: a randomised crossover trial, Neurology, 44: 1787-93