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Health | How to avoid headaches ruining your way of life

Studies suggests that headache disorders (including migraines) are the third highest cause of disability worldwide.


So YOU have just discovered that boxed wine and cheap vodka don’t necessarily mix well, and you’ve got the vicious headache to prove it. Headaches aren’t always party-aftermath related, but they are always a bummer, and they’re also unfortunately very common. It’s estimated that about half of adults worldwide have had a headache in the last year, and 30 per cent of those believed they had suffered a migraine.


Not only is it annoying, but it can also be potentially dangerous. Studies suggest that headache disorders (including migraines) are the third highest cause of disability worldwide due to their significant impact on quality of life and the financial cost of being unable to work. While sometimes the cause is environmental or physiological, you should also consider that diet may play a vital role. Here are the top foods to avoid or load up on, to ease the pain.



Worst foods for headaches:




I know, so obvious. But it’s too common not to put on the list. Headaches from alcohol tend to creep up either immediately, or in the form of the dreaded hangover the next day. In fact, people who get migraines may experience a headache after only a single small drink. Tyramine, phenylethylamine, histamine, sulfites, and flavonoid phenols are commonly found in our favourite drinks and have all been suspected as a potential cause of migraines.




Excessive and then the absence of, coffee. Ah yes, take away the morning coffee and get ready for a pounder. People with the highest intake of caffeine (more than 540 mg per day) were 10 per cent more likely to get headaches and migraines. To avoid the nasty effect, experts recommend limiting your intake to no more than 400-500 mg/ day (about four cups of coffee, which is still pretty generous!), and more importantly, being consistent in your intake. In other words, don’t go on a coffee binge on Saturday morning, only to go cold turkey in the days to follow.




You didn’t want to see this one on the list. But at least it’s still debatable. The likely culprit? It looks as if the phenylethylamine and tyramine amino acids found in chocolate may be responsible. It seems possible that chocolate might be a trigger for some, but not others, so definitely try to pay attention to the outcome after your next treat.


Artificial sweeteners


It might not be just the caffeine in your diet fizzy drink that’s giving you a headache. Artificial sweeteners, particularly the super-popular aspartame, may increase the risk of migraine headaches and reduce the percentage of days subjects were headache free. Apparently, calorie-free doesn’t necessarily mean pain-free, so try cutting back on the bubbly stuff.


Aged cheese


Feeling the pressure after a fancy cheese plate? You may not be alone. The process of fermentation, which is key in the production of cheeses like blue, cheddar, Parmesan, and Camembert, increases the levels of tyramine and phenylethylamine amino acids in food. Try ricotta, cream cheese, farmer cheese, cottage cheese, or American instead for a lower tyramine option.


Processed meat


We hear the word “nitrates” all the time in the context of chronic disease, but it seems they might not be so kind to our heads, either. Common food preservatives found in processed foods like hot dogs, sausage, and cold cuts may be linked to migraines in some populations. It seems that the presence of nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide reductase genes related to the composition of gut bacteria is responsible for determining who suffers and who doesn’t.



Best foods for headaches:




So it’s not technically a food, but there’s a reason water tastes so good when you’re not feeling your best. Dehydration is one of the leading causes of headaches in general, so it makes sense that getting your eight glasses a day may help. You can also help meet your hydration needs by fitting plenty of fruits and veggies with a high water content into your diet. Cucumbers, spinach, watermelon, and berries can all help quench your thirst and supply a range of important vitamins and minerals to keep headaches at bay.


Low-sodium foods


One easy way to cut back? Avoid those processed foods and meats, which are also rich in those potentially problematic nitrates.


Leafy greens


Yep, another win for kale. Leafy greens, like kale, spinach, and chard, are loaded with the B vitamin folate, which may play a unique role in the risk of headaches. In addition to being high in folate, leafy greens are an excellent source of magnesium. A low level of this essential mineral may be to blame for headache symptoms, making it even more important to get in your daily dose of greens.




Migraine sufferers tend to have lower levels of serum magnesium, and almonds are one of the greatest (and tastiest) sources to meet your needs. Try supplementing with 600 mg of magnesium each day to see if it reduces the frequency of migraines. While you may need a supplement, I would suggest trying a food-first approach, and if you’re not into almonds, try leafy greens, seafood, pulses, and other nuts and seeds.


If you’re suffering from consistent headaches or migraines, I recommend making a journal and tracking what you eat before a migraine attack to determine which of these foods are hurting (or helping) your pain.


Preventing headaches can also extend beyond what you’re putting on your plate. In addition to switching up your diet, remember to get plenty of regular physical activity, set a consistent sleep schedule, and minimise your stress levels.


Denise Kelly is a passionate and motivated ‘health expert/nutritionist’. Her company is called DK – The Wellbeing company and represents all things health and fitness.

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