Missing meals, eating at odd times, and other poor dietary practices are all tell-tale causes of that dull, throbbing sensation in your head, says nutritionist and wellness coach Pooja Bhargava.
You are probably no stranger to the occasional headache.
These are common ailments that could have a variety of underlying root causes, from fatigue to lack of sleep, to even hormonal imbalances or dietary intake.
Identifying one specific source of the problem is not always possible, as these differ from person to person based on their medical history, lifestyle, and circumstances.
One of the main culprits when it comes to the common headache is stress, which causes both tension headaches and migraines.
Little irritants spread out over the day, as well as certain unexpected events, can trigger or worsen the ache.
Another reason that leads to the onset of a headache is not following your circadian rhythm. This is the body’s internal clock that normally acts in accordance with the day and night cycle; you feel sleepy at night and wake up to daylight exposure.
This could be disrupted due to your work schedule, excessive screen time at night, travel, or a pre-existing condition.
A disturbed sleep-wake cycle could lead to common headaches, and in prolonged or severe cases, neurodegenerative disorders.
There are also less noticeable reasons for that stubborn pain: pay attention to your water intake.
Our brains are 80% water, and when the body is dehydrated, the brain tissue loses water causing it to shrink and pull the pain receptors. Moreover, hormonal shifts or imbalances are an often-overlooked aspect — headaches could be linked to menstrual, postpartum, or menopause related changes in your body.
An umbrella of possible causes means that it is best to adopt a balanced approach to finding what works best for you.
From a dietary point of view, headaches can be controlled or better managed with clean eating practices and a healthy lifestyle.
Food’s therapeutic qualities ensures that it is one of the best treatments you can start with in your home.
1. Have enough liquids
The most basic practice to incorporate into your daily routine is to ensure that you are consuming enough liquids to keep yourself hydrated.
Infused waters with Vitamin C rich ingredients like oranges, cucumbers, and mint leaves, coconut water, and fresh juices are great sources of electrolytes and other valuable nutrients that will replenish those you have lost throughout the day and balance your acid-alkaline levels.
2. Avoid caffeine
Avoid liquids that contain too much caffeine.
Coffee is a stimulant that also acts as a diuretic, helping expel water from your body through urine. It narrows the blood vessels that surround the brain, a process known as vasoconstriction.
This provides temporary relief from fatigue and headaches but is soon followed by vasodilation, or the widening of the blood vessels, resuming the headache.
Monitor your coffee intake, as well as consumption of other sources of caffeine like teas, energy drinks, soft drinks, and chocolate.
3. Limit alcohol
Alcohol is a common cause of migraine headaches, working along the same lines as coffee’s diuretic powers.
The main component of alcohol is ethanol, also a diuretic. The post-drinking state of the hangover is certainly something to avoid – which is why you need to control your alcohol intake carefully.
4. Get enough sleep
A full night’s rest is vital to the system. Try to set a disciplined bedtime routine so you can go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
This will regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and cross out another potential cause from the list.
Ensure that the room you sleep in is quiet and dark at night, and that you receive some natural light exposure every day.
5. Avoid processed foods
There are certain foods that you can eliminate from your diet to regulate your body’s levels of histamine, a chemical that plays a large role in the neural sleep-wake cycle.
High levels of histamine could lead to migraines, which is why foods that are rich in this chemical, like cheese, fermented foods, canned or pickled items, beer, wine, and smoked fish, are best when consumed in small quantities or left out of your diet if you face histamine intolerance or sensitivity.
Many processed foods that are laden with preservatives, high salt content, and flavour enhancers like MSG can also interfere with your body’s natural chemical balance.
Foods like hot dogs and bacon contain high levels of vasodilating nitrates and nitrites, while salty instant noodles and chips dehydrate your body and make it retain more water.
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame have also been found to trigger headaches in people, so pay attention to your food labels for any hidden additives.
6. Exercise, exercise, exercise
When you keep your body active through yoga, aerobics, or other stretching and breathing techniques, it helps ease tension, ups your oxygen levels, and releases endorphins, chemicals that naturally relieve pain.
Not only will you find yourself sleeping better with regular exercise, but also feeling lighter, less stressed, and more attuned with your circadian rhythm.
While these are all broader lifestyle changes you can make to decrease your chances of having a headache, there are several home remedies you can try for quick relief and even long-term effects, all within your kitchen cabinet.
7. Choose the right herbs and spices
Chewing ginger, curry leaves, or basil leaves can release their nutrients into your system and ease the headache.
Other foods that you can consume to boost your nutritional intake include seeds like sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, and nuts like almonds — not only do these provide a host of proteins and good fats, they are also rich in magnesium, which has been proven to aid migraines and menstrual headaches.
Similarly, try boiling whole black peppercorns in water, which will release the active enzyme piperine, an anti-inflammatory agent that relieves nausea and headaches.
An added benefit is its digestive properties. You could also help headaches externally, by rubbing eucalyptus or peppermint oil on your temples for a calming effect.
8. Have your meals on time
Remember that your diet plays a key role in changing how your body works; it can be both the problem and the cure. This is why preventative therapy works, targeting the root of the issue before it worsens.
Maintain a balanced meal plan that does not skimp on glucose-rich carbohydrates.
Our brains need glucose to function properly, the absence of which can lead to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
Missing meals, eating at odd times, and other poor dietary practices are all tell-tale causes of that dull, throbbing sensation in your head.
Listen to your body and respect its needs — it will love you all the more for it!
Pooja Bhargava is an American Council of Sports Medicine and Indian Institute of Fitness Administration certified personal trainer, physical fitness expert and nutrition consultant.
She is the founder and CEO of Fitness, U and Nutrition.
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