Headaches and Nutrition

By: Juliet Cohen

Headache is a condition of pain in the head; sometimes neck or upper back pain may also be interpreted as a headache. Headaches can have a wide range of causes and many levels of severity. Headache involves the network of nerve fibers in the tissues, muscles, and blood vessels located in the head and at the base of the skull. There are two types of headaches: primary headaches and secondary headaches. Primary headaches are not associated with (caused by) other diseases. Tension headaches are the most common type of primary headache; as many as 90% of adults have had or will have tension headaches. Migraine headaches are the second most common type of primary headache. An estimated 28 million people in the United States (about 12% of the population) will experience migraine headaches. Migraine headaches affect children as well as adults. Before puberty, boys and girls are affected equally by migraine headaches, but after puberty, more women than men are affected. Cluster headaches are non-throbbing and usually are felt on one side of the head behind an eye.

Cluster headaches affect about 1 million people in the United States. More common in men, they can happen over several days and usually last 30 to 45 minutes. In the United States, over 45 million people including more than the 33 million sufferers of asthma, diabetes, and heart disease—experience chronic, recurring headaches. Approximately 6 million of those women have what are called “menstrual migraines.” Menstrual migraines occur around the time of ovulation and/or menstruation. Most people experience headaches at least occasionally, whilst some suffer frequently. Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar, hunger) is a common cause of headache. Triggers can be made worse by adding stressors, such as lack of sleep and eye strain. Eat a well-balanced diet. Avoid chewing gum, ice cream, iced drinks, salt and excessive sunlight. Practice deep-breathing exercises. A lack of oxygen can cause headaches. Try eliminating foods containing tyramine and the amino acid phenylalanine. Then reintroduce one food at a time and see which ones produce headaches.

Eat a high fibre diet and include extra fibre in the form of supplements. A nutrient called tyramine which is found in many foods and beverages (aged cheese, bananas, beef, chicken livers, chocolate, eggplant, pickled herring, soy sauce, sour cream, cured meats, certain champagnes and red wine), as well as some food additives- monosodium glutamate(MSG) used in Chinese restaurants as a flavor-enhancer, and nitrate and nitrite used to preserve cured meats are also known to trigger headaches and migraines. The most important factor is probably emotional stress. The most often stated cause of headaches is caffeine. Triggers can be made worse by adding stressors, such as lack of sleep and eye strain. Either too much or too little caffeine can cause problems. Often food, or lack of food, can be a trigger to a headache. Magnesium, found in beans and whole grains, beans, nuts, avocado and spinach is necessary and too little magnesium may cause headaches and migraines. In addition, a B vitamin called riboflavin may reduce headaches occurrences.

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Juliet Cohen writes articles on diseases and conditions and women health care. More information on health related topics visit our site at www.health-care-articles.info.

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