Headache and nutrition: what is the relationship?
“What a headache!” Impossible not to have said this sentence at least once in your life. There are those who suffer from it only rarely and those often. For some, it is enough to rest a little to solve the problem, for others, even a painkiller is not enough. For some, the headache is linked to muscle tension, for others, however, there is no real cause. Is it possible to get rid of it with adequate nutrition? Are there any foods to avoid to reduce headache episodes?
Headache and migraine
Let’s start by getting to know the problem better. Headache and migraine are two words to which we give the same meaning: headache. There are different types of headaches, primary and secondary ones. Primary headaches, or those whose cause is not certain, include tension headaches, cluster headaches, and migraines.
It is the most common type of headache. It is usually related to stress or anxiety. At the base, there seems to be a muscular tension due, in fact, to certain psychological conditions, but it could also be caused by incorrect posture. It is characterized by the fact that the pain affects the whole head and has a very variable duration.
It is the rarest type of headache but also the most painful. This occurs in active periods called “clusters” lasting days or months, with months or years in which the disorder does not appear. The pain, very intense, affects only one part of the head, very often the eye area. Cluster headache seems to be related to the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a structure in the brain that represents our biological clock. This type of headache is accompanied by redness of the eye, tearing, runny nose, and facial sweating.
Migraine, not just a headache
The peculiarity of migraine is that it is a recurrent disorder that can last from 4 to 72 hours. It manifests itself as pain in the head, often on one side only, but is also often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, photophobia, and phonophobia (sensitivity to light and sound). The symptoms can also be very intense, so much so as to prevent the carrying out of daily activities. Migraines can occur with or without aura or with or without characteristic vision disorders such as flashes of light, blurred vision, or distorted vision. Usually, the aura lasts for a few minutes, after which it gives way to migraines. The triggering factors can be many, including the menstrual cycle, sleep disturbances, stress, but also nutrition.
The factors responsible for headache
Many factors can trigger headaches, and given the difficulty of diagnosis, it is often not easy to trace the causes in a short time, but the most common factors are:
- Emotional and physical stress, especially linked to the work environment.
- Poor rest of the body due to insufficient or disturbed sleep that causes alterations in the sleep-wake rhythm.
- Fluctuations in hormone levels in women.
- Insufficient intake of nutrients, consumption of specific foods, and dehydration.
- Changes in season and climate.
Food and headache
It is easy to think that food plays an important role in problems such as constipation or reflux, but who would ever believe that food can affect headaches?
And yet it is just like that.
Food is also one of the factors that can trigger a headache attack (migraine). The lack of some vitamin and mineral complexes can be responsible for the worsening of migraines. In particular, iron and magnesium are two fundamental micronutrients. Many teenagers and women who suffer from headaches are iron deficiency anemic (iron deficiency anemia), especially if they have heavy periods, and this worsens depression and pain. Integrating iron well, preferably combined with vitamin C, is necessary to reduce migraines, anemia, asthenia, and associated symptoms. The correlation between low magnesium levels and headaches is well established. Magnesium is essential for preventing muscle-tensive headaches thanks to its ability to relax nerves and muscles.
The intake of some foods, in particular those with high concentrations of histamine and tyramine, vasodilating substances, can trigger headaches.
Limiting some foods, preferring others, and paying attention to lifestyle could improve headaches.
Foods to avoid for headaches
Among the foods to avoid are those that are difficult to digest but also those that contain vasodilating substances, nitrates, tyramine, glutamate, and tannins.
For this reason, it would be good to limit the consumption of:
- Alcohol and spirits
- Red meats and sausages, rich in nitrites and nitrates
- French fries and fried foods in general
- Bouillon cubes
- Oriental food, which contains glutamate
- Milk and derivatives, fermented and aged cheeses
Of course, quantities are important and not just for these foods. Headache, in fact, can also arise in association with a tiring, slow and laborious digestion, and therefore even an abundant lunch or dinner can cause an attack in predisposed subjects. And in contrast, fasting itself or dehydration can equally predispose to annoying headaches.
Foods that help to combat headaches
Fighting headaches with food is possible by limiting some foods and increasing the consumption of others instead. Among these are those rich in magnesium (sometimes at the base of headaches, there may be a deficiency of this element) and calcium, but also those based on complex carbohydrates and fiber.
Greenlight therefore to:
- Legumes (especially lentils)
- Cereals (brown rice, oats, millet)
- Easily digestible fruit (cherries, plums, etc.)
- Fresh fish
- White meat
- Fresh vegetables
The way of cooking does its part too
It is very important not only what we eat and how much but also how we cook it. Cooking can also affect headaches. Therefore is better to limit types of cooking that are too elaborate and difficult to digest, such as those that require a lot of fat, frying, but also cooking on the grill or braising. Instead, go for lighter cooking, such as steaming.
Useful tips against headaches
Nutrition can play a fundamental role in alleviating or avoiding headache attacks, but, once again, it must be accompanied by a correct lifestyle.
Here are some tips to take care of yourself and prevent those annoying and painful headaches:
- Get about 7-8 hours of sleep every night, trying to get regular sleep.
- Take care of your posture, especially if you spend many hours sitting.
- Try to do exercises that stretch the muscles (yoga, pilates).
- Avoid spending a lot of time in front of the computer or TV, and try to take breaks to rest your eyes.
- Do relaxing activities.
- Avoid sudden temperature changes.
- Drink lots of water.
- Pay attention to your diet. Avoid skipping meals and always eat fruits and vegetables rich in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
- Often the secret of well-being lies in taking care of ourselves and dedicating time and the right attention.
The secret to a healthy lifestyle is 2 simple things:
- having a balanced diet by eating a little bit of everything
- being active and doing exercise