Eliminating headache triggers is a must if you ever want to live a life free from the burden of head pain. Chiropractic care is an important component to tackling your headache problem, but there are many more components that must be addressed if you ever want to get complete control over this issue. Below is a list of different headache "triggers". A trigger is something that puts excessive stress on the body. These triggers tend to have a cumulative effect, and over time, will cause the body harm if they aren't kept in check. I refer many of my "tough" headache patients to this list if we aren't getting the results we want from chiropractic care alone. Go through this list and do your best to avoid these triggers for at least 3 weeks. Once you have successfully avoided these triggers for 3 weeks, slowly start reintroducing them into your life one at a time. It is also important that you take a good multivitamin throughout this process as your diet will be very restricted.
1. Caffeine - Caffeine actually has literature to support both its positive affects on migraine headaches, and its negative affects on headache symptoms in general. The chemical is responsible for constricting blood vessels, and anything that either constricts or dilates the vessel wall should be avoided (at least initially).
2. Chocolate - White chocolate is allowed, but do not overindulge.
3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) - MSG helps create the "savory flavor" that is lost in the commercial food preparation. This chemical is almost always in commercially made sauces, soups, and microwaveable meals. Also be leery of any label marked with "natural flavors" as this often means MSG.
4. Processed Meats and Fish Preserved with Nitrites and Nitrates - Tyramine ( along with glutamate) tends to accumulate in the aging and ripening process. There is an abundance of research linking the consumption of Tyramine to headaches.
5. Cheese and other Dairy Products - These foods also contain tyramine. If you find cutting cheese and dairy is too hard, try these cheeses instead: cottage cheese, ricotta, cream cheese and good quality American cheese. Yogurt, sour cream and buttermilk can also cause a headache, but milk cream, butter, and ice cream are usually not a problem.
6. Nuts - Most nuts contain tyramine. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are safe to eat.
7. Alcohol and Vinegar - Clear, white (ideally distilled) vinegar is permissible.
8. Certain Fruits and Juices - Some of these items contain tyramine, but help yourself to apples, most berries, cherries, grapes, melons, peaches, and pears.
9. Certain Vegetables, especially Onions - You have probably caught on by now, but if you haven't, these foods also contain tyramine. Leeks, scallions, shallots, and spring onions are safe. Garlic is safe to eat as well.
10. Fresh Yeast - For the chronic headache sufferer, commercial breads are actually better.
11. Aspartame (Nutrasweet) - All-natural sugar usually doesn't cause headaches.
Medication Triggers – You MUST consult you prescribing physician before eliminating these possible triggers. With the help of you doctor, do a cost-benefit analysis of all the medication you are taking. Start by eliminating all non-essential medications first.
Hormones - The two biggest causes for hormone imbalance would be from birth control and hormone replacement therapy. It takes time for your body to accumulate enough of these hormones to have an effect, and most commonly, most people do not begin feeling headaches until months after starting these treatments (and it may take months to have them stop triggering a headache).
Stimulants and Diet Pills - Over-the-counter stimulants, even the herbal kind, advertised for weight loss and/or energy may seem harmless, but have been shown to cause headaches.
Stress and depression - Stress and depression are felt throughout the entire body. Most patients manifest these emotions through physical pain. Headaches can also occur after a stressful event. For example, if work is extremely stressful, you may experience headaches only during the weekends or on vacation. Please understand that this issue is much more complicated and harder to control than many of the other triggers. It is important to pick your battles when dealing with these triggers and it may be easier to control your diet and other avoidable triggers right now while you continue to work through this one.
Raising your Threshold
Okay, so now you know what to avoid, but there are also ways increase your headache threshold. Think of your threshold as a bucket, and your triggers are drops of water. The lower your threshold, the smaller your bucket and the fewer triggers it takes to fill the bucket with water (causing a headache). The best ways to raise your threshold are to get and maintain a regular sleep cycle, have and maintain a healthy diet and eating pattern, exercise consistently, and maintain proper posture throughout the day.
Headaches no longer have to control your life. Following this advice, along with chiropractic care, will help decrease the intensity and duration of your headaches. I hope you found this information helpful, and if you haven't tried chiropractic, please give us a call. It is our mission to help as many people as we can get well through natural, conservative care.