Headaches. 6 ways to avoid Pain-killers.

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Kate Leinweber, B.Sc R.H.N.

I hate headaches and have done everything I can to understand how to prevent them!

I fear that pain in the neck; the earliest sign of a big headache.

I don’t know what it is, but when I start to feel a headache come on I immediately run for the big pain-killers. I have this deep anxiety over it becoming a full fledged headache and have an intense need to stop it in its tracks.  What is up with that? When I sprained my ankles at the start of every basketball season I never took pain killers. When I fell on my front steps last winter and my tailbone ached for months I just handled it. But when it is a tension in my neck that reverberates pain up to my head threatening to blur my vision, and generally make me a basket-case I cannot open my pill box fast enough!

I have always had headaches on and off. From allergies as a child, and when I went to University they became chronic stress-related pains in the neck. I started taking ibuprofen almost daily if not multiple times a day. Not the best way to deal with pain in my body. After a few years of that I found an essential oil blend of lavender and mint that became my best friend.  And watch out if I didn’t have it. I have some friends that can vouch for the monster that came out if I was not prepared with my “headache roll-on”.

We all have our own way of dealing with or disguising pain in our bodies.

There are whole books written about how pain is a message from the body that something is wrong; be that emotional, physical or spiritual. I don’t want to put pharmaceuticals in my body, but sometimes I just don’t want to deal with the pain. My Naturopath tells me to invite my headaches to get bigger. Ya, thanks. I’ve done that, and it was not an enjoyable experience. I know he is right, and that there is something I’m avoiding by taking the pain-killers. But, with my avoidance of pharmaceuticals, I decided instead to take the circuitous route and discover how many ways I can prevent my headaches from happening in the first place!

Of course stress is a huge factor.

I practice yoga, meditate and breath deeply during stressful times, and all of those things certainly help. (A headstand is a great way to fend off the early signs of a headache for me.) When a headache is your weak point you need more than a few hours a week in a yoga class for true prevention. I have gone from daily headaches to less than one a month through integrating the recommendations below alongside a yoga and meditation practice. Still I am challenged when a headache comes. I start with essential oils of peppermint and lavender rubbed all over my neck and temples. If that doesn’t work then I try White Willow Bark. This is the herb that acetaminophen or Tylenol comes from. And if all else fails I call in the big guns and take an advil liquid gel. They are the easiest on your system and must be taken with food.

Here are 6 concrete preventative measures that work.

1.  Blood Sugar Imbalances – Eat Regularly.

Hypoglycemia is a condition where the body is unable to properly regulate blood sugar balance.  Symptoms of hypoglycemia are triggered when blood sugar is too low and include: hunger, dizziness, fatigue, headache, irritability, and fainting.

The primary way to alleviate headaches caused by hypoglycemia is simply to eat.  Eating habits to support balanced blood sugar levels include small meals every 2 hours.  All meals or snacks containing sugar or carbohydrates should be consumed alongside a protein source.

Diabetes, or a high blood glucose level can also cause headaches. Someone with diabetes should properly monitor their blood sugar levels and follow any prescriptions from their doctor.  In addition avoiding refined carbohydrates, focusing on whole grains and combining carbohydrates with protein and/or fat at each meal can help keep blood sugar levels more even.

If experiencing a headache after consuming a very sugary meal.  Try drinking a large glass of water with a pinch of Himalayan salt.  Miso soup, pickles and anything salty can also help.

2.  Food Allergies/Sensitivities – Understanding Food Addiction.

Food allergies and sensitivities can be expressed in a variety of symptoms including headaches.  Keep a detailed food diary and record when you experience a headache.   An elimination diet removing suspected foods from the diet for 6 weeks and then reintroducing them can also provide insight into headache triggers. Common allergens are: wheat (gluten), dairy, eggs, corn, peanuts and pork. Often the food you eat the most is the food you are allergic to.

3.  Dehydration – Drink warm water with lemon.

The amount of hydration needed varies from person to person and depends on the water and fat content of their foods.  Generally speaking about 6-8 glasses of water a day is a good amount to aim for.  Water that is room temperature is easier on our stomach and the lemon helps us to digest it. Noticing the color of urine is another indicator of dehydration.  If urine is dark and yellow it is a sign to drink some water! Remember that caffeine is dehydrating so if you are drinking coffee or black tea you must increase your water intake!

4.  Imbalanced Hormones – Eat the Good Fats.

Hormonal issues take longer to identify and correct.  If headaches occur on a regular time schedule then hormones may be the culprit.  Balanced Fat intake is crucial to hormonal balance as well as minerals deficienciess can influence tension headaches associated to hormonal imbalance. Healthy fats include fish oils, nuts and seeds, avocados, coconuts, bone broths, dairy, eggs, and meats from grass-fed animals.

5.  Improper Fat Metabolism – Love Your Liver.

Liver headaches are strong and painful; usually called migraines.  These can arise anywhere from 2-4hours after the unbalanced food is consumed.  Notice eating fatty foods on an empty stomach such as anything fried for breakfast, eggs, cheese, and sometimes meats. If this scenario applies to you try drinking lemon tea and always have lemon in water before meals. Lemon helps the liver and gallbladder digest fats properly. Sleep is also a great remedy for these headaches.

6.  Preservatives and Additives – Fake Food. No Thanks!

Mono-sodium glutamate (MSG), Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), Sodium Nitrate/Sodium Nitrate, and Food coloring Yellow #6 have all been seen to trigger headaches. Tryamine is a vaso-active amino acid found in foods and can be in higher amounts in aged, preserved, or are not fresh.  Foods high in tryamine are:  red wine, aged cheeses, processed meats, peanuts, broad beans, peas and lentils.

Read your labels and keep a food journal to see if there is a connection between certain food additives and headaches.

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Kate Leinweber

I am a Microbiologist and Registered Holistic Nutritionist. I have been in the health industry for close to a decade, starting on the allopathic medical end of the spectrum and now in the holistic realm. I am obsessed with food and its healing abilities! I’ve been a vegetarian, vegan, and even a raw foodist…and I felt crappy and unhappy! I formally studied Holistic Nutrition and discovered individualized balanced nutrition. Currently I help plant-based foodies who have energy crashes and digestive distresses to feel amazing by re-programming their food choices. My practice as Holistic Nutritionist extends around the world and focuses on the ancient knowledge of Chinese Medicine, Medical Intuition and Traditional Food Practices. My holistic model empowers each client with knowledge of how whole foods can sustain a healthy and whole body. Visit me on Facebook.

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anonymous Oct 15, 2013 6:37am

You description sounds more like a migraine than a headache.

MSG causes mine every time. Peppermint is good but liquid Advil is my crutch 😉

anonymous Jan 16, 2013 2:07pm

[…] “It is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.“ Mahatma […]

anonymous Jun 17, 2012 6:52pm

[…] to ignore it. Maybe if I was feeling especially kind towards myself, I would get a massage or do some self-care things to help it go away faster. Same thing with emotional pain. When I’m distraught, I go for a […]

anonymous Mar 31, 2012 11:07am

Just posted to "Featured Today" on the brand new Elephant Health & Wellness Homepage.

Shay Dewey
Please "like" Elephant Health & Wellness on Facebook.

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 7:15am

My company Karma Healing Solutions handblends aromatherapy oils to support different conditions. My inifinite head relief rollerball is a definate favorite for headache sufferers!

anonymous Feb 4, 2012 2:46pm

While I find this info to be very helpful to headache sufferers and even migraine sufferers, I find it unethical to use the logo for cluster headaches to sensationalize this article. Other than the unfortunate label of "headache," cluster attacks are a severe condition and it is VERY disrespectful to use this image when discussing headaches. If you have ever suffered from a cluster headache, then you would know how disturbing it is to see this image used for an article that offers NO help or respect to clusterheads and the condition.

anonymous Dec 9, 2011 3:51pm

How does lime in water compare to lemon for detoxification of the liver and processing of fats?

anonymous Dec 8, 2011 9:02pm

Great topic, excellent info, thank you. Any tips on menstrual related migraines?

anonymous Dec 4, 2011 3:13pm

Hi. I slipped a disk 6 yrs ago and after 3 days on morphine was on huge doses of ibuprophen -until I discovered natural anti-inflammatories, which should help headaches too. These include derivatives of ginger, pineapple and turmeric. All spicy food including hot peppers are good, but for fast relief you want pills called Ginger Force, Bromelain, etc. Even pine needles have some anti-inflammatory action. Fish or krill oil is really important too, unless you eat cold-water fish almost daily.

anonymous Dec 4, 2011 9:13am

Thanks Chiara!
Any salt is fine as long as it is unrefined.
And the sour nature of lemon helps the stomach produce an ideal amount of Hydrochloric acid, and hydrochloric acid stimulates the production of Bile from the Gallbladder. Bile is how our liver removes toxins from the body. So, lemons stimulate detoxification of the liver.

anonymous Dec 4, 2011 7:40am

A small correction… White Willow Bark is not the herb where acetaminophen comes from. It contains salicylic acid which is formally a precursor of aspirin. Salicylic acid and acetaminophen are not the same molecule. Salicylic acid has poor oral bioavailability and can potentially cause stomach ulcers when taken in large amounts. These are some of the reasons why aspirin was developed.

A question… what special has Himalayan salt got apart from the food miles?

I am also not completely sure how lemon would help the liver to digest fats. Could you perhaps expand on that?

anonymous Dec 3, 2011 10:27pm

Thank you for this. My father suffered from migraines and bipolar disorder pretty much his whole life. I don't think he followed one rule on this list. Fortunately since having children my headaches are way way down and I haven't had one migraine!

anonymous Dec 2, 2011 9:53am

Excellent article! Thanks

anonymous Dec 2, 2011 4:34am

Just posted on Elephant Food FB page.

anonymous Dec 1, 2011 11:53pm

Great article, Kate! I notice that before a killer headache my neck muscles are also very tense – mostly in the levator scapulae region. Would love to hear your thoughts on yoga postures that could help and/or pranayama techniques! 🙂

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Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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