Dr. David Buchholz: The Truth about Headaches

CBN.com If you're like most people, you're probably confused about the whole subject of headaches. You may wonder, Do I have migraine? Or do I have a brain tumor? Could it be an aneurysm? What about my tension headaches? Or sinus headaches? Is it arthritis in my neck, or a pinched nerve, or am I just stressed out, or is it my hormones, or what is it? You're not the only one confused and frustrated about headaches.

All headaches arise from a single mechanism - the mechanism of migraine - which generates painful blood vessel swelling when activated by specific triggers. This headache-generating mechanism, which produces not only headaches but also other symptoms including dizziness, neck stiffness, sinus congestion and many more, can be controlled. Control starts with reducing your exposure to some of the triggers, especially certain food and medications. If trigger avoidance alone isn't effective, preventive medication, which blocks the mechanism, can be added. Painkillers, on the other hand, lead you to lose control. Many headache sufferers spin farther and farther out of control in a vicious cycle of victimization by headaches and dependence on painkillers.

Dr. Buchholz says there are many unavoidable or difficult to avoid migraine triggers such as barometric pressure and weather changes, hormonal fluctuations, sensory stimuli, physical exertion, sleep deprivation, and stress. With these triggers there is little you can do to avoid these situations. There are however avoidable triggers in which you can begin to take control of your headaches. Avoidable triggers are for the most part, things that are swallowed: certain foods and beverages, and medications. Some potential dietary triggers are listed below. Dr. Buchholz cautions that everyone is different, and it may be that not every one of the foods and beverages that most commonly cause headaches is a trigger for you.

Avoidable dietary triggers.

  • Caffeine - Coffee, tea, iced tea and cola. Even decaf coffee and tea may be a problem. Try caffeine-free tea without citrus and other trigger flavors.
  • Chocolate - White chocolate (no cocoa) is okay; carob is questionable.
  • Processed meats and fish - Aged, canned, cured, fermented, marinated, smoked, tenderized - or preserved with nitrites or nitrates.
  • Cheese and other dairy products - The more aged, the worse. Permissible cheeses include cottage cheese, ricotta, cream cheese and good-quality American cheese.
  • Nuts - Avoid all kinds, as well as nut butters. Seeds are okay.
  • Vinegar - Clear or distilled vinegar is allowable. Don't overdo condiments made with vinegar such as mustard.
  • Certain fruits and juices - Citrus fruits and their juices as well as bananas and dried fruit preserved with sulfites.
  • Certain vegetables - Avoid onions, sauerkraut, pea pods and certain beans.
  • Aspartame - Nutrasweet and saccharin. Sucralose (Splenda) isn't a problem.
  • Fresh yeast-risen baked goods - Less than one day old: homemade or restaurant baked breads such as sourdough.

Kristi Watts and David BuchholzIt's likely that you can eventually tolerate some of the dietary triggers in limited quantities. Before reintroducing these items into your diet, make sure you have achieved headache control and maintained it for four months or more. If you add back an item and headaches recur then stay away from it. If you add back an item and maintain headache control then keep this item as part of your diet. Another benefit in following the migraine prevention diet is that you will not only have fewer headaches, but also shed unwanted pounds. For effective weight loss, Dr. Buchholz says you should concentrate on eating food that is fresh and healthy and avoid foods that are processed. Foods that are processed may contain chemical triggers such as MSG, which can cause headaches.

Beyond dietary modification, you can make other lifestyle choices to help control your headaches. Regularity is key: you should sleep, eat and exercise on a regular basis. Get enough sleep each night, seven to eight hours or more, and don't oversleep sporadically, as on weekends.
Skipping meals is a common trigger for migraine. Stay on schedule for three meals a day, no more than six to eight hours apart. Snack in between if you wish, but only on nonrestricted items. Exercise helps both body and mind, and in both ways helps to control headaches. Regular exercise is a means of relieving stress and thereby helps in reducing your trigger load. Exercise also enhances your migraine threshold by stimulating endorphins in your brain and helping to block the mechanism that causes headaches.

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