I can’t count how many times a patient has come in to our naturopathic doctor clinic with one complaint, and only when asked, they non-chalantly mention they suffer headaches on a daily basis: “but I just take Tylenol and it goes away”, or “it’s normal for me”, or “I’ve had them all my life”.
Let me just set something straight: Headaches are not normal, and the source should be treated.
What are headaches?
A number of medicine-based websites define “headache” as any pain of the neck and head area.
Simple definitions equals simple treatments right? Pain=painkiller?
If I were to rewrite that definition, I would probably add that “headaches are a symptom of a underlying cause.”
Even reputable medical resources don’t recognize the cause for common headaches, only really delving in to what drugs may suppress the pain.
Finding the cause of any symptom is the essence and root of treatment, and finding and treating cause may enable one to be rid of all these nasty symptoms.
What are the causes of headaches?
We want to make sure that the causes are not life-threatening or serious.
Your healthcare provider will determine this through a thorough intake of the history and character of the headaches, as well as a physical examination of your neurological system.
If there are any warning signs, you will be referred for blood tests and possibly CT or MRI scans of the head.
If everything is clear, your healthcare practitioner will categorize your headache based on its characteristics. These include:
- Chronic daily headache – Types included in this are: chronic migraine, chronic tension-type, new daily persistent, and hemicrania continua, all defined by the type of pain.
Chronic daily headaches are the most common headaches experienced by people and are the focus of this article.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 1 out 20 adults suffer from these types of headaches every day.
Its causes can be broken down to the basics: diet, lifestyle and nutrition. Some causes of common headaches include:
- Poor dietary habits, and conditions associated such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure)
- Nutrient deficiency
- Muscle tension – posture
- Poor sleep
- Food allergies
Now does it make sense that popping 4-8 painkillers a day would target these causes?
It may temporarily decrease the pain, but the underlying causes are still there. Diet provides the basis of the environment by which your body functions, and a poor diet only causes poor bodily function.
Things like coffee, soda, pop, and fast foods are not only dehydrating and lack nutrients, but can spike blood sugar levels after consumption, and consequently cause insulin levels to rise.
When insulin rises, it causes a massive drop in blood sugar, leading to blood flow changes to the brain, causing headaches.
A poor diet also makes one susceptible to high blood pressure (a leading cause of headaches), thereby increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Stress can also cause tightening of the neck and shoulder muscles, as well as increasing blood pressure, both of which contribute to recurring headaches.
Headaches can be a good indicator that it may be time to improve your dietary habits to prevent chronic disease.
A diet full of junk not only has negative effects on blood sugar, but also causes havoc on your gastrointestinal system.
The intestinal lining is often damaged due to poor nutrition, leading to food sensitivities and decreased nutrient absorption.
Also, the good bacterial flora is often compromised, and the increased sugars feed unwanted microbes such as yeast, allowing them to grow and cause gastrointestinal problems.
Food allergies can manifest in a number of different ways, such as skin conditions, asthma, allergies, and more.
But more often than not, symptoms could be as unclear as fatigue and headaches.
Ways treat headaches
As you can see, these are several reasons why headaches may be a good indicator of your overall health.
A good diet not only prevents and treats all that was mentioned above, but also improves the health of your adrenal glands (and cortisol release) allowing you to cope with stress efficiently, decreasing your future risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Naturopathic doctors are skilled in determining these causes as well as implementing treatments that can reverse these effects, without the use of synthetic pain killers.
Diet and lifestyle modifications are essential to all aspects of health, and while they improve, so do the headaches. Here are a few tips for preventing headaches during the day:
- Keep hydrated – drink AT LEAST 6 cups of water a day
- Decrease snacks and drinks loaded with refined sugars (candy, pop/soda, etc)
- Make sure to be replenished with proper electrolytes, especially after strenuous exercise
- Reduce coffee consumption to 1x/day and replace extra cups with lower-caffeinated teas such as green tea
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Relieve stress through mediation, exercise, spend time with those whose company you enjoy
- Take breaks from your computer during the day to relieve eye strain
- Get fresh air
- Ensure your digestion is working optimally – weak digestion equals poor absorption of nutrients, where deficiencies can lead to headaches
Naturopathic doctors can also perform treatments that provide symptomatic relief to headaches while we are improving the diet, such as acupuncture, botanicals and homeopathic medicines.
Please contact your healthcare provider if:
- If you experience an abrupt, severe headache (feels like a Thunderclap)
- If you’re present with fever, stiff neck, numbness, tingling, visual disturbances, confusion, trouble speaking
- Associated with seizures
- Progressive headaches, associated with cough, or exertion
- Progressive headaches after a head injury
Yours in Health,
Dr. Tanya Lee, N.D
- World Health Organization [homepage on the Internet]: World Health Organization (WHO); c2010 [updated 2004 March; cited 2010 Feb 2].Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs277/en/
- The Mayo Clinic [homepage on the Internet]: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER); c1998-2010 [updated 2009 June 23; cited 2010 Feb 2]. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chronic-daily-headaches/DS00646/DSECTION=symptoms
- Beers MH, Porter RS, Jones TV, Kaplan JL, Berkwits M, editors. The Merck manual of diagnosis and therapy. 18th ed. Whitehouse Station (NJ): Merck Research Laboratories; 2006.
- Gardner, L. and Reiser, S. “Effects of Dietary Carbohydrate on Fasting Levels of Human Growth Hormone and Cortisol.” Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. 1982;169:36-40.
- Wright RJ, Frier BM. Vascular disease and diabetes: is hypoglycaemia an aggravating factor? Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2008 Jul-Aug;24(5):353-63