Headaches are one of the most common health complaints amongst the general UK population and affect more than 10 million people regularly. Most headaches do not have a serious origin, but can certainly be disruptive to daily life, especially if you suffer with them frequently or if you are part of the 15% of the UK adult population who suffer with migraine.
Causes of regular headaches and migraines can vary, but include sinus conditions, tension and stress, food intolerance and allergy and hormone related triggers such as the menstrual cycle. Whatever the cause the result is the same, a pain in the head, which can leave you wishing you could just unscrew it from your neck! As this unfortunately is not possible, there are a few things nutritionally that can help ease symptoms or reduce the frequency of both headaches and migraine attacks.
Many people who suffer with migraine are found to have low levels of Magnesium, so consuming more of this mineral can certainly be beneficial for those who struggle with migraine symptoms. When magnesium levels were increased in migraine sufferers, whose magnesium levels were low, there was a marked reduction (by almost 50%) in the frequency of migraine attacks.
Magnesium deficiency amongst the UK population is higher than you may think and as it is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, involved in many body processes, its addition in the diet is vital and essential for overall good health. Magnesium has also shown to be effective in women whose migraines are linked with the menstrual cycle too. Although the reason why magnesium may be helpful in migraine sufferers is not fully understood, it is suggested that it is most likely down to the fact that magnesium has a relaxing effect on the blood vessels in the brain, which can constrict during a migraine attack.
Brazil nuts, almonds, dark chocolate and cocoa, bran, seeds, green vegetables such as spinach and avocadoes, as well as brown rice, are all good sources of Magnesium, so if you do suffer with headaches or migraine, a variety of magnesium rich foods should be consumed daily. If you needed another reason to drink Delamare Dairy goats’ milk, then magnesium is it! Goats’ milk is a higher source of magnesium than cows’ milk and more importantly the magnesium found in goats’ milk is far better absorbed and utilized by the body, compared to the magnesium found in cows’ milk.
You could also take a supplement of Magnesium, the recommended dose being 200 - 400 mg per day, but it is best to consult your doctor before starting this supplement as it can interfere with some medication and too much magnesium can cause other health problems, so is not recommended in large doses.
Coffee is one of the nation’s favourite hot beverages, and is a classic example of what can be one man’s medicine can be another man’s poison. When it comes to head pain, many sufferers know coffee can actually be a common trigger to their migraine and head pain symptoms, but in many other people it can actually help alleviate symptoms. This is because before the onset of headaches and migraines, blood vessels tend to enlarge and dilate. Caffeine actually has vasoconstrictive properties meaning it causes blood vessels to narrow and restrict blood flow, which can help relieve the pain. Caffeine is actually one of the main ingredients in over-the-counter migraine medicines along with acetaminophen and aspirin.
There has also been a lot of research investigating the use of B6 vitamin supplementation in migraine sufferers, and this vitamin has been found to have positive effects on reducing migraine severity. Foods naturally containing B6 include oily fish, bran, raw garlic, hazelnuts and pistachio nuts, baked potato (with skin), bananas and spinach.
Some research also suggests that increasing vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) consumption could also potentially reduce the severity and frequency of migraine attacks. A recommended dose of B2 per day is 400mg, which can be taken in supplement form or increased within your diet naturally. Foods rich in Vitamin B2 include oily fish (mackerel and salmon), sun dried tomatoes, spinach, yogurt and venison too. Remember B vitamins, including B2 and B6, are water soluble vitamins, which means that our body does not store these vitamins and thus we need to make sure we have these daily in order to get the levels we require for good health.
E-numbers are the codes used to identify food additives, which are added to a whole variety of foods that many people buy and eat regularly. These food additives include items such as artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colourings and flavour enhancers and are very often consumed without even knowing they are present, unless you read the food labels. If you suffer with headaches and migraines, there are some E-numbers that you are better off avoiding, as some have been linked to causing both headaches and migraines. Tartrazine (also known as E201) is a yellow/orange colouring found in many products including margarine, ice-cream, puddings, icing, sweets, soups, cordials and sauces.
It can also be found in tablet coatings and is often used in medication and nutritional supplements such as vitamin tablets. It is currently unknown why tartrazine may trigger headaches or migraines, but in some people who are sensitive to it, it is definitely best avoided in the diet.
Many people will have heard of aspartame (also known as E951), which is one of the most common artificial sweeteners and which over the years has had an abundance of bad press. Aspartame is found in many products promoting themselves as low in sugar or ‘slim-line’ products including yogurts, drinks, cakes, soft drinks and biscuits to name just a few, and has been shown in some people to trigger or exacerbate both headaches and migraine symptoms. It is therefore best avoided in those people who suffer with symptoms frequently.
Monosodium Glutamate (also known as E621 or MSG) is a flavour enhancer and is often associated with Chinese foods. This little E-number has also shown a link with headaches and migraines and can, in some people who are sensitive to it, cause tiredness and a general ‘groggy feeling’ too. It is found in many products including, Chinese takeaways, cuppa soups, soy sauce and many readymade meat products such as sausages, pork pies and some sandwich meats. It is also found in many crisps including some of the nation’s favourite brands!
All E-numbers will be detailed on the food label and will be written as the name or the number. If you suffer with headaches or migraines, make sure you check the food labels of the food products you purchase and look out for those named above. Look for alternative foods that don’t contain them as there will be some.
Water water water
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of headaches. Even just a small loss of water in the body can start to cause symptoms such as fatigue and a muggy head feeling. It is therefore very important
to keep hydrated throughout the day. Drinking water is obviously one of the main ways to do this, but there are also many foods that contain a good percentage of water, as well as some essential vitamins and minerals. Watermelon is great for rehydration and also contains magnesium, which as mentioned above can aid in the prevention of headaches and migraines. Other foods with a water rich content include cucumber, lettuce, berries and melon and are all easy to snack on.
This warming spice has found to have quite a few medicinal properties and some research suggests it could be very helpful for those suffering headaches and migraine. Ginger contains some potent compounds that are similar to the ones in nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
It is therefore suggested that ginger may help in the treatment and prevention of head pain by blocking inflammatory substances called prostaglandins. If you are someone who also experiences nausea or sickness with your pain too, then ginger can help relieve this symptom as well. Fresh ginger is best and can be added to soups, stir fries, sauces and drinks. Ginger tea can be very soothing and refreshing also and sipped easily whilst at your desk!
A pain in the head can certainly be unpleasant at best and excruciating at worst, but taking more notice of the foods you eat and increasing those that are known to be helpful in alleviating pain or frequency can make a difference in the long term.