Headaches involve mild to severe pain in one or more parts of the head and/or the back of the neck. There are many different types of headache patterns and a variety of causes.
Headaches are generally divided into either primary (not related to another disorder) or secondary (caused by another, often more serious, medical condition). It your headache symptoms have come on suddenly or changed dramatically, it’s important to make an appointment with your GP to rule out any secondary cause.
Primary headaches do not present a danger to health but they can seriously impair your quality of life. Identifying and dealing with any underlying triggers and making key diet and lifestyle changes can manage symptoms and keep recurrence at bay.
The different types of headaches each have their own symptom picture:
- Tension headaches: a mild to moderate headache that may last minutes or days and tends to recur. The pain is fairly constant and felt in both sides of the head and neck as a pressure or tension. Most importantly, exercise doesn’t make it worse and there are no additional symptoms such as nausea.
- Cluster headaches:f requent, short-lived (less than an hour), one-sided headaches across the temple or around the eye that may occur once or more a day, often disrupting sleep. Headaches recur for several weeks then subside, although another cluster may develop months later.
- Chronic headaches: these may be either tension or cluster headaches. They occur for at least 15 days a month for at least 3 months.
Stress: stress is a common trigger for headaches. Stressful events during the day can cause us to contract and muscle tension in the neck, head and around the back and spine, leading to the development of a headache. If the stressful situation persists for a long time then headaches can become chronic.
The only way to deal with these kind of headaches is to address the underlying stress. Having a Stress Test is a great way to start – identifying the stage of stress which your body is key to effective therapy.
Blood sugar imbalances: if you skip a meal, your blood sugar level may drop too low for your brain to function comfortably. In order to boost the amount of fuel available for the brain, the body releases hormones. These hormones can also cause an increase in blood pressure because they narrow the arteries, contributing to the development of a headache.
Problems balancing blood sugar levels comes with a wide-ranging list of other symptoms, including fatigue, irritability and inability to concentrate. Blood sugar levels can be greatly influenced by what we eat – if you think low blood sugar is influencing your headaches, an Insulin Test can measure this for you. Smart Nutrition can also help you to get this aspect of your life under control with dietary advice.
Diet – Headaches have been linked to a reaction to a number of food components. The top culprits are:
- Caffeine – found in chocolate and caffeinated drinks
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – a common flavour enhancer, but also found naturally in such foods as tomatoes
- Nitrites – preservatives found in processed meats and some cheeses
- Amines – found in a wide range of foods including spinach, tomato, potato, small whole fish, tuna, liver, dark chocolate and alcoholic drinks
Foods need to be identified and then removed from the diet for a period of time to assess the affect on your headaches.
Food Intolerances: a Food Intolerance Test is a powerful tool to detect adverse reactions to foods, beverages and additives. It measures the cellular reaction to allergens, and Smart Nutrition can then give you practical suggestions on how to avoid trigger foods to reduce your symptoms.
Smart Nutrition can also provide consultations for those who don’t want to carry out a blood test to help you to eliminate any of your trigger foods and their families.
Hormone imbalances: if your headaches follow your menstrual cycle, your headaches may be caused by hormonal peaks and troughs.
One theory suggests that low levels of the female sex hormone oestrogen just before menstruation affects the receptors for the important brain chemical serotonin, triggering a headache. There are also a number physiological changes prompted by the menstrual cycle that affect pain-signally molecules, exacerbating headache symptoms.
A Female Hormone Panel can indicate whether your hormone levels are balanced through your cycle.
Smart Nutrition also offer consultations that help to identify any imbalances. These can then be corrected through a specially tailored diet and supplement protocol, helping to reduce headache symptoms and reappearance.
Medications: certain medications, particularly hormone-based drugs, such as the contraceptive pill and HRT, can trigger headaches. If your symptoms change or become more severe when taking these medications, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Smart Nutrition can provide alternatives to some hormonal medications – please book a consultation to find out more.
(Please note that we do not recommend you stop any medication without the agreement of your GP.)