I strive to look for the root cause, not just symptoms. Making changes to your lifestyle can make all the difference in your chronic headache treatment. Sometimes getting to the bottom of your headaches is less complicated than you’d think; it can be as simple as making sure you’re getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep or making sure you’re drinking enough water and not drinking too much alcohol. So while conventional prescriptions could be part of the treatment plan, the end goal is to determine the cause of your chronic headaches and fix it. Let’s take a look at the most common causes.
The people most at risk for constant headaches are those under high emotional or work-related stress. Stress can cause or worsen headaches through a variety of mechanisms. The stress hormones activated when the body goes into “fight or flight” mode also act on our blood vessels, causing headaches. Emotions like anxiety, worry, and fatigue can also increase muscle tension, exacerbating, or causing headache pain.
Sleep is a foundation of good health, and too much or too little can trigger headaches. According to the American Migraine Foundation, migraines, in particular, seem to be impacted by sleep issues, as migraine sufferers are 2 to 8 times more likely to have a sleep disorder. Getting a solid 7 to 8 hours of sleep can be immensely helpful in lessening the symptoms of chronic headaches. It’s also worth paying attention to substances that can affect your sleep, like caffeine and alcohol. Similarly, alcohol can affect your circadian rhythm, block REM sleep, make falling asleep, stay asleep, and get good quality sleep more difficult.
If you have neck tension or shoulder tension, it can sometimes trigger tension and migraine headaches. These issues might be relieved by chronic headache treatments like acupuncture, physical therapy, or seeing a chiropractor.
Lacking certain nutrients in your diet can also cause constant headaches, including vitamin B2, riboflavin, vitamin D, and magnesium. Often, supplementing with these vitamins and minerals can help alleviate headaches.
Headaches (especially migraines) can be brought on by hormonal changes, particularly during different parts of a woman’s menstrual cycle due to an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone. For example, too much estrogen, not enough progesterone during the perimenopause years can trigger migraine headaches.
Easy on the additives
Yet another reason to void foods with sweeteners, additives, and preservatives such as MSG; nitrates and nitrites (found in cured meats); aspartame (found in soda and other “sugar-free” products); and sulfites (found in wine, salad bars, dried fruits).
Don’t Starve yourself
Food deprivation and hypoglycemia are a form of stress, which can trigger migraines.
If you are waking in the middle of the night, try eating a light snack one hour before bed to stabilize your blood sugar.
Food intolerance and other digestive issues
Headaches are also very commonly caused by gut issues related to food intolerance or sensitivity. The mind-gut connection and gut-mind connection are huge. Your brain can sense physical signals down to your gut neurons, causing them to turn on. Likewise, digestive symptoms can send alerts to your brain that cause headaches.
Eliminate known food triggers/ food sensitivities that may be contributing to migraine symptoms.
Diet often plays a vital role in migraine pathophysiology because 60% to 80% of the immune system is in the gut. Keeping a food and symptom diary can help identify common food triggers as well as screen for contributory lifestyle factors, such as dehydration or skipping meals. Look for patterns since some reactions aren’t always immediate but can occur several days after a food is consumed. It’s important to note that certain foods trigger migraines in some people but not in others because they have a unique immune system and physiology. Triggers also can be dose-dependent, and some people may have more than one trigger.
Most Common Migraine Triggers
• Aged cheeses (blue cheese, cheddar, feta, gorgonzola, parmesan, Swiss)
• Alcohol, especially wine
• Canned soups
• Canned, cured, or processed meats
• Overripe avocados, tomatoes, and bananas
• Smoked and pickled foods
• Soy sauce
Additionally, eliminate these foods to see if they heal/reduce migraines: Gluten, dairy, eggs, yeast, corn, sugar, citrus, tea
Putting it all together: After eliminated environmental and hormonal possibilities, the identification of food triggers, with the help of food diaries, is an inexpensive way to reduce migraine headaches. Among the most commonly recommended vitamins and supplements are magnesium, riboflavin, and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).
Coach Christina MS, CNS, LN