Headache Causes and Treatment
Headaches, nearly half of the adult population has them. Some are a very minor disruption in your day. Some majorly disrupt work or school. Some make you go to bed early. Some put you in bed for days in pain. There are ways to classify a headache: tension, cluster, migraine, cervicogenic, hormonal/cyclic etc. etc. But if you are the one with a headache do you really care what it’s named? Or would you rather find the cause and how to fix it?
I’m going to talk about various headache causes and treatment. For simplicities sake when I say headache I’m referring to all forms of headaches and migraines, unless otherwise stated.
While many people don’t think of food being responsible for headaches, researchers for over 50 years have been showing how foods can cause headaches and migraines. Foods containing Tyramine (a naturally occurring chemical) are widely taught to cause headaches. These foods can include chocolate, preserved meat, alcohol, cheese, and many others.
But other foods, not high in Tyramine, can also cause headaches. Foods causing headaches is a very debatable topic between doctors, with most not even suggesting how food can often trigger a headache. This doesn’t align with research and clinical experiences though. One study of 88 children with frequent migraines showed 93% recovered from following a strict hypo-allergenic diet.
If a person eats a food they are sensitive to his or her body will mount an immune response, which causes the release of histamine. Certain foods also contain higher amounts of histamine. No matter the form, histamine has been linked to causing vascular headaches. Low histamine diets can really help a lot of chronic headache sufferers, and one can find many recipes here.
Studies have shown most headache sufferers to have food allergies.
As you can see, there are many ways foods can cause headaches, be it from an allergy, Tyramine, or histamines. We’ll talk more about testing for food allergies later.
Fungal, Candida, Bacteria, Parasite and Other Microbial Causes:
Many holistic health care practitioners have been teaching for years how dysbiosis (too many bad microbes) can wreak havoc on ones body. Fungal/Candida dysbiosis causes the production of aldehyde and benzene in ones body. Both of these chemicals are widely known to cause a wide range of physical effects, including severe headaches. All forms of dysbiosis will cause the production of unwanted chemicals in ones body, in addition to increasing inflammation and increasing ones overall total load.
Nutritional Deficiencies and Headaches:
Much of the food we intake in today’s society are nutrient poor compared to past generations. Also because of dysbiosis and inflammation we don’t always properly absorb the nutrients from our food as well as we should. Both of these issues can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Deficiencies in vitamin B6, zinc, folic acid, and magnesium (to name a few) can all cause headaches.
Vitamin B6 is used up by your body in times of stress, which we all have too much of in today’s society and in the formation of adrenaline. It is also a key nutrient in breaking down histamine, and studies have shown to be used up when one is near electromagnetic fields (EMF), which we are on a daily basis.
Zinc can be used up when eating foods one is sensitive to, because it acts to stop the release of unwanted histamine. Zinc is also needed in the production of pancreatic enzymes, which is needed to properly digest food.
Environmental Toxins and Headaches:
Many things we are exposed to daily in our environment can also cause headaches; perfumes people wear, shampoo or lotion with fragrance added, pollution in the air, the smell of rubber walking by a new shoe store, etc. etc. These are just a few examples of potential environmental triggers, which can set off a headache in many people.
Neck pain and Headaches:
A cervicogenic headache is one where the head pain is referred from the bones and/or muscles in the neck. Researchers estimate that approximately 18% of all headaches are of this variety. If a bone is subluxated (misaligned in ones neck) then it can cause irritation to the surrounding nerves. This irritation can lead to one experiencing a headache. When assessing ones neck for subluxations the doctor should always evaluate the function of the supporting neck muscles. For numerous reasons ones muscles may not be working properly, and using certain types of specific therapy on the muscles can help them regain their proper tone and contractile ability. If needed, the subluxation can also be corrected by using a very specific chiropractic adjustment on the neck. By working both the vertebrae (bones) and muscles one can help to greatly reduce, if not completely eliminate, these cervicogenic headaches.
Blood Sugar and Headaches:
For nearly 100 years doctors have researched the effects of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and headaches.
As mentioned in my previous blog on Fatigue, poor functioning adrenal glands can result in ones blood sugar not being able to balance correctly. Working to restore proper adrenal gland function can help one who suffers from hypoglycemic headaches.
Hormones and Headaches:
Approximately 7-14% of women report having migraines only during menstruation. These hormonal headaches are thought to be caused by dropping estrogen levels during a woman’s monthly cycle. Hormonal imbalances can be caused by intake of xeno-estrogens in ones diet, your liver being overloaded and not being able to break down estrogen correctly, or improper production.
Drugs to remove your headache?
Sometimes taking an Ibuprofen, Aspirin, or other Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) will help with your headache, allowing you to continue on with your day. Great! All Fixed! But wait, was your headache caused by a lack of NSAIDs? I think not. NSAIDs work by shutting down your body’s production of prostaglandins. You have 3 forms of prostaglandins, with #1 and #3 being anti-inflammatory and #2 being pro-inflammatory. Blocking of this #2 pathway is why NSAIDs work in relieving a headache. One major problem with taking an NSAID is it shuts down all forms of prostaglandins, meaning that it may make you feel good initially by shutting down the #2 pathway, but will cause more long term harm by also shutting down your natural anti-inflammatory #1 and #3 pathways.
What can I do to stop my headaches?
As mentioned, many things can cause headaches including food allergies, dysbiosis, hormonal imbalances, musculoskeletal issues, and improper blood sugar handling. In some people if they stop eating chocolate, or no longer drink wine, ones headaches will go away. Sadly though, it typically is not this cookie cutter to help one who suffers from headaches.
Getting checked on food sensitivities/toxicities is one of the best initial steps in starting to decrease your headaches. There are many ways to check for food sensitivities including skin prick, blood, elimination, and other manors. My personal favorite, and the main one I use in my practice to evaluate food sensitivities is Applied Kinesiology. Using this technique we are able to see how your body neurologically responds to various foods in real-time testing, giving us a fast and immediate way to give you a custom diet program. You want to make sure your doctor can also check you for dysbiosis, adrenal function, and hormone function to see if these may be contributing factors to your headaches. By lowering your overall total load then you will be less likely to develop a headache from environmental causes, as spoken about before. In some circumstances certain nutrients will boost your toxin handling ability, allowing you be exposed to the same triggers in moderation without the unwanted side effects getting a headache.
In cases of a cervicogenic headache you should have your neck vertebrae and musculature evaluated. By correcting any subluxations and working on any muscular imbalances you can relieve the pressure on the irritated nerves, decreasing the referral pain, which caused the headache.
Getting checked on all of these things will give you the best chance of getting rid of your headaches for good!
As always, please feel free to email me at DrNoahLebowitz@gmail.com or comment below with any questions you may have.
-Dr. Noah Lebowitz is a second generation Chiropractor and Applied Kinesiologist practicing in Tacoma / Seattle WA. Dr. Lebowitz treats the chronically ill patient with fatigue, intestinal issues, depression, autoimmune conditions, etc. The patients he sees have often seen many other doctors beforehand and are able to be helped using the unique protocol developed by Michael Lebowitz DC. He also works with professional athletes (including NHL and MLB All-Stars and MVP players) and amateurs working to optimize muscle function and nutrition helping decrease injuries and increase performance.