The Nutrition and Lifestyle Factors That Could Be Triggering Your Headaches
June 5th to 11th is National Headache Awareness Week and to honour the week we wanted to provide some insight into some of the potential diet and lifestyle factors involved in headaches. Headaches can be linked to various factors such as stress, diet, hormone imbalances, sleep, use of stimulants or even something more life-threatening. In the absence of anything life-threatening, there are some common diet and lifestyle-related reasons for why some people get regular headaches and wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could identify any that may apply to you and eliminate them from your life?! In this blog we’re going to break down 5 common reasons for headaches and our top tips for managing them better and significantly reducing the incidence of headaches.
Diet & Sugar
We all know sugar has a negative impact on our health and waistlines, but did you know it can be a big cause of headaches? If you consume sugary breakfasts, such as sugary cereals, toast with jam, croissants and even so called “healthy” mueslis, you are setting yourself up to ride the blood sugar rollercoaster for the rest of the day.
A breakfast that’s low in protein and high in sugar causes your blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise high above the ideal range, which results in a sharp drop in blood glucose levels. The drop (low blood sugar) can trigger a headache, as well as an energy dip and trouble focusing. This usually causes a person to seek out more sugar to get their blood sugar levels back up again, and so the vicious cycle goes on. Starting the day on a bad blood sugar footing is a nightmare for your head! If your snacks are also sugar or refined carbohydrate-based this creates a further blood sugar spike, which is always followed by a sharp drop, making a headache more likely. If subsequent meals follow suit, then you’re riding a blood sugar roller coaster all day every day.
Your brain is about 80% water and so the brain is the first organ in the body to feel the effects of dehydration.
This is usually felt by way of a headache first and foremost, and perhaps also brain fog, forgetfulness, difficulty making a decision and even dizziness. Could your headaches be due to dehydration? In order to help the brain (and body) remain hydrated it’s crucial to be sipping water throughout the day.
When high amounts of caffeine are consumed regularly, the body can become dependent on its effects. Caffeine narrows the blood vessels surrounding the brain and when consumption is stopped, those blood vessels enlarge, creating pressure in the surrounding nerves. This can then trigger what is known as a caffeine withdrawal headache. It becomes a vicious cycle when we keep reaching for more caffeine to relieve the headache. Couple this with a diet high in sugar and low in protein and it’s a double whammy of headache triggers!
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Stress and muscle tension are often factors in these headaches. Tension headaches typically don't cause nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. They do cause a steady ache, rather than a throbbing one, and tend to affect both sides of the head. A lot of people get tension headaches in response to stressful events or situations. If stress is chronic then these tension headaches can also be chronic.
Studies have found that people who have migraines tend to have lower levels of magnesium than people who don't get headaches. A number of double-blind randomised placebo-controlled trials have shown that magnesium is effective for the relief of headaches and have led to the recommendation of oral magnesium for headache relief in several national and international guidelines -Magnesium is one of the most successful headache remedies. Magnesium deficiency is more and more common in our modern world for various reasons, including the depletion of minerals in our soil, diets high in sugar (which uses our stores of magnesium), processed foods and refined carbohydrates. Chronic stress can also deplete the body of magnesium and the biochemical stress response in the body uses a lot of magnesium.
OUR TOP TIPS FOR NUTRITION AND LIFESTYLE FOR REDUCING HEADACHES!
Eat to Balance Blood Sugar
Include protein with all of your meals, especially breakfast. Starting the day with about 30g of protein in your breakfast meal prevents the sharp rise in blood sugar caused by typical sugary, low protein breakfasts. Try having a couple of eggs with smoked salmon, a tin of mackerel or some leftover chicken meat and throw in some sauteed vegetables or salad leaves for blood sugar-balancing fibre and key “phyto” (plant) nutrients. Make your own protein smoothie with plenty of good fats and minimal fruit. Continue to include protein with your lunch and dinner to keep this blood-sugar balancing effect going and don’t forget to include protein with any snacks you might have. To benefit from a more concentrated dose of phytonutrients, try adding our phytonutrient-rich juices and shots to your daily routine.
Don't Overdo the Caffeine
If you suffer from frequent headaches and you consume caffeine regularly each day, consider slowly reducing your caffeine intake and only consuming it in moderation. Consider replacing your regular teas and or coffees with quality green tea instead, which has much less caffeine, plus the caffeine content is balanced out by the brain-calming amino acid; L-theanine. Also try herbal teas such as from the Pukka brand, which has a wide range of lovely herbal blends to choose from.
Stay Well Hydrated
Remember, your brain is the first organ to feel the effect of dehydration and the biggest symptom of this is a headache. Start each day with a pint of water as soon as you wake up and then, consistently sip water throughout the day. You’ll know you are hydrated if your urine remains a very pale straw colour. If you find your urine to be dark yellow at certain points, then you need to be drinking more water. It’s normal to have darker urine when you first get up in the morning but from then on it should remain pale. A steady drip feed is what your brain needs though, rather than big gulps a few times a day.
Get More Magnesium
Supplementing with 300–400 mg of magnesium each day may reduce the frequency of headaches. You can also increase your stores of magnesium by including more whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, high quality cocoa, beans and lentils and nuts and seeds in your daily diet. Another way to increase magnesium is by having regular Epsom salts baths or foot baths and soaking in it for at least 15 minutes. Epsom salts contain magnesium sulphate which we absorb through the skin.
Relieve the Stress and Tension
If we can reduce the impact stress has on our nervous system, we may be able to reduce the incidence of tension (stress) headaches. There are many simple and enjoyable lifestyle habits we can add into our day that can have a calming, cortisol-lowering effect on the nervous system. Try adding in these restorative practices even for just 5-10 minutes per day:
Simple deep breathing exercises such as the 4:6 and 4-7-8 breathing techniques
Guided meditation via apps such as Calm, Headspace and Insight time
Mindful walks in nature/green spaces or woodlands
Yoga Nidra body scan meditation
Tai Chi or Qi Gong
Journalising on (writing down) your thoughts, feelings and problem
The ZEN pillar in our range of drinks is designed to support and calm the nervous system and improve your resilience to stress, with nutrients that have been carefully chosen to help calm the body, soothe your stress response and restore balance. Our ZEN shot contains a helpful amino acid called L-theanine, which has been shown to help calm the stress response in the body and bring a sense of calm. You’ll also find L-theanine in high quality green tea leaves, so try replacing your regular black teas and coffees with green tea.
We hope you have learned more about the potential nutrition and lifestyle related causes of headaches this National Headache Awareness Week. In our experience, many people are needlessly suffering with regular headaches as a result of their diet and or chronically busy lifestyles. We really encourage you to consider if any of these points may apply to you and to start working on improving your diet and stress management straight away! Always consult your doctor if headaches persist as it’s important to rule out anything more serious.