Last week, I had another client complaining of chronic headaches. From a Naturopathic point of view, we have a completely different perspective as to why they happen and we always want to look at the cause! We will not band-aid them by giving pain-relieving medication; but instead look at what is causing them and eliminate that from our life.
In my professional opinion, food allergies and chemical sensitivities are one of the main causes of headaches, whether they are chronic headaches, tension headaches, migraines or even “cluster” headaches. The foods and chemicals we ingest every day are 100% responsible for how we feel in our body.
There are several main food allergies that I want to talk about:
MSG (Monosodium Glutamate or otherwise labeled as Glutamic Acid or Glutamate) — This chemical is commonly found in Chinese food; salad bars; fast food restaurants; sausages; luncheon and deli meats and cheeses; frozen meals, canned foods such as soups and vegetables; canned parmesan cheese; soy sauce; salad dressings; packaged gravies, etc.). Basically any kind of processed or pre-packaged food has a pretty good chance of having MSG in it, so be sure to read the label and avoid it! The other problem with this chemical is that the government allows food manufacturers to use other names for it. So when you’re checking labels be sure to check for these ingredients also: caseinate, autolyzed yeast enzymes, beef or chicken broth, natural flavoring, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, soy protein concentrates, soy isolates and autolyzed yeast extracts. These names are all disguised names for glutamates, but the FDA allows these names to be used as long as the actual glutamate is less than 99 percent pure! So watch out and read your labels!
Aspartame (50% of which is Phenylalanine) – This toxic chemical is common in so many things: Diet Sodas, flavored drinks, chewing gum, juice, frozen foods, yogurt, diet or no-sugar foods. Aspartame is absolutely insidious and should be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, as a nation, we are consuming WAY too much of it because it is in everything. Anything diet related or sugar free, is going to have this chemical in it. Even if you’re just simply chewing gum, that’s enough…there is enough of that chemical in a stick of gum to completely disrupt your brain chemistry! If you’re chewing gum because you’re worried about your breath, you can use Peppermint Essential Oil instead and that will freshen your breath, and it is completely 100% pure and toxic-free.
Artificial Sweeteners (Splenda (Sucralose), Saccharin, etc.) – These are the pink, blue and yellow packets you see on restaurant tables. They are commonly added to Iced Tea or Coffee to sweeten. But beware! These chemicals significantly affect brain chemistry and absolutely can be causing your headaches. So opt for using REAL sugar, or carry packets of “Stevia” (an herbal sweetener) with you.
Food Colorings – Beware of the food dye colorings in some foods like juice, ready-made meals, frozen foods, cereals, cakes, cookies, chips, frostings, etc. Red Dye #40 and Yellow Dye #5 in particular are very common additives in many items such as yogurt, flavored powdered drinks; Energy drinks, etc. so please check your label and avoid food dyes as these are known to trigger headaches.
Other Known Food Triggers – Here is a list of some common foods that have been shown to cause headaches…yellow cheeses (cheddar), aged cheeses (blue cheese, gorgonzola, etc.), caffeine, chocolate, beer, wine, mushrooms, pickled meats like herring, wheat products (bread and pasta), nitrates in hot dogs, lunch meat, dairy foods.
Also, there are the other triggers like lack of sleep, lack of exercise, too much stress, and hormonal fluctuations. And one of the other culprits, not drinking enough water! Please see this post about the importance of water and how it helps your body!
In the event that you are now suffering with a headache, here are some remedies for headaches:
~~ Soak your feet in a tub of hot water and apply ice pack to the back of the head
~~ Have a friend rub your neck and scalp
~~ Rub Peppermint or Lavender Essential Oil on your temples (be VERY careful to avoid your eye area!!!) or at the base of your neck
~~ Do some EFT
~~ Homeopathic Remedies: There are many different homeopathic remedies for headaches and they are all based on the exact symptoms you have. So you would need to consult a practitioner to find your exact remedy. But, these 4 seem to be the most common remedies used so you might try them…you can find them in a health food store: Lachesis 30c, Ignatia 30c, Nat Mur 30c, Nux Vomica 30c.
~~ Drink fresh Ginger Tea
Best advice…..Read all ingredient labels on the foods you buy. Avoid the “fake” foods. No “Diet”, “low/no fat” or “no-sugar” type of foods. They are laced with chemicals and absolutely can be causing your headaches. Instead, use REAL sugar or Stevia (all natural herbal sweetener available in health food stores). It is best to always eat the food in as natural form as possible; that will always be fresh. Steer clear of the internal isles in the grocery store where all the packaged and processed foods are located. Instead, shop on the outer isles, spending most of your time in the produce section! Buy a new cookbook that focuses on preparing natural, fresh, food and start cooking! Check out my Recipe Section for healthy simple recipes that you can make easily in your own kitchen! There are soups, salads and casseroles and I will constantly be adding new healthy recipes so check back often and don’t be afraid to try something new!
If you are struggling with headaches, you really need to dissect everything you’re eating to determine if any of your “regular” foods are contributing to this problem. One of the easiest ways to do this is to keep a daily journal. I use the Life Journal software program. I really like it as it enables me to keep several different journal entries, organize it the way I want and search for past entries. Keeping track of your eating habits, exercise routine, headaches or other body symptoms is easy to do using Life Journal….you’ll really be able to see patterns in your dietary habits that can help you make necessary nutritional changes in your life. If you want some help with your food allergies, post a comment on this post and I’ll respond and make some suggestions!
You can get relief from headaches! As you can see from the chemical list above, there are a lot of possible ways that you might be ingesting these chemicals. They are known to contribute to many different varieties of headaches. So before you reach for a pharmaceutical drug, please explore your diet and what you’re consuming everyday that might be causing your headaches. There are alternatives to chemical-laden food….buying fresh, organic, and preparing your own meals (rather than eating out all the time) so you have control about what goes in body. Your body will thank you for that extra care and you will find yoursel feeling better than ever!
Melissa Wood is a Naturopathic Doctor located in San Antonio, Texas. She has been studying alternative and natural medicine for over 20 years.
You can read more of her work at www.stayhealthyandwell.com