Headaches are one of the most common medical complaints, affecting any person, irrespective of age and gender. Headaches refer to pain in any region of the head that may be experienced on one or both sides, be throbbing, sharp or dull, and last a few hours to several weeks.
There are several types of headaches and they are generally divided into 2 categories: primary (such as tension, migraine and cluster headaches) and secondary (such as headaches caused by another medical condition or due to over-use of medication). Other types of headaches may occur, and therefore it is very important to receive medical attention if your headaches become chronic and worsen. Causative factors for headaches are numerous and may include genetics, stress, lack of sleep, food sensitivities, dehydration, and posture, among others.
For those who are prone to getting headaches, follow these preventative strategies to reduce headache occurrence:
Regular Eating and Avoid Food Triggers
Eating inconsistently throughout the day may be a headache trigger as this may cause a hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) state, leading to symptoms of head pain, nausea, confusion and fainting. Each day, aim to eat a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus 2 snacks, with a goal of eating every 2-3 hours.
In addition to eating a whole foods diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and good quality proteins, avoid foods or additives that may act as headache triggers. This includes processed meats (contain nitrites), monosodium glutamate (MSG), aged cheeses (contain higher amounts of tyramine), red wine and dried fruits (contain sulphites), chocolate, too much caffeine, and aspartame. Keeping a daily diet record is a great way to discover associations between what you eat and your headaches.
Getting Sufficient Sleep
Either getting too much sleep or too little sleep can trigger headaches in susceptible individuals. Variations in serotonin and other brain neurotransmitters may impact the frequency and intensity of a headache. Adults should aim to sleep 7 to 8 hours each night, while children and teens need 9 to 11 hours each night.
Reducing Stress Levels
Stressors that we encounter on a daily basis can prompt headaches to occur. Prevent these headaches by incorporating stress reducing activities throughout the day such as deep breathing, meditation, journaling, time management practices, taking time away as needed, and seeking social support.
Insufficient water intake and the loss of electrolytes can lead to dehydration headaches. To avoid this, drink water consistently throughout the day. Always have a re-usable water bottle with you – it is a great reminder to encourage water intake. Minimize coffee and alcohol since these drinks are dehydrating and can cause more problems.
Be Active and Stretch
Although exercise may trigger headaches in some people, it has been found to reduce the pain and frequency of headaches in others. For adults aim to incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity per week, plus strength training exercises at least 2 days per week.
Incorporate Natural Health Products
Specific nutrients and botanicals such as white willow, coenzyme Q10, and feverfew, have been used in herbal medicine to help relieve headaches and to help prevent migraines. For example, studies have shown that feverfew effectively reduces the frequency and severity of migraine attacks by inhibiting inflammation and decreasing blood vessel spasm . In addition, a randomized double-blind placebo controlled, multicenter trial found that use of a nutritional supplement containing a combination of magnesium, vitamin B2 and coenzyme Q10 improved migraine frequency and pain intensity . Speak to your health provider about which natural health products might be right for you.
- Pareek A, Suthar M, Rathore GS, Bansal V. (2011). Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.): A systematic review. Pharmacogn Rev, 5(9), 103-10.
- Gaul C, Diener HC, Danesch U; Migravent® Study Group. (2015). Improvement of migraine symptoms with a proprietary supplement containing riboflavin, magnesium and Q10: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, multicenter trial. J Headache Pain, 16, 516.