Have you been suffering with headaches? Is this normal? Are over-the-counter pain medications the answer to these annoying nuisances? Here’s a simple checklist to identify possible underlying causes and possible solutions to correct the problem.
To begin with, it is important to understand that there are many different causes or triggers for headaches, as well as different types of headaches. The more common types of primary headaches include tension headaches, migraines, sinus headaches, hormonal headaches and the least common primary type—cluster headaches.
Headaches can range from annoyances to being totally disabling. Headaches are a way your body communicates with you that something is wrong or out of balance. Think of a headache like a fire alarm chirping to let you know the batteries are getting low. Simply removing the batteries gets rid of that annoying chirping sound, but failure to replace new batteries in this life-saving device sets up the stage for what could be a catastrophic and deadly event in the future. Likewise, the easy and fast option is to “cure” a headache with a pain pill, but the problem is that primary headaches are not caused by pain pill deficiencies. In fact, regular use of these medications can make headaches significantly more frequent and intense. As with any type of body symptom, it is time to put on our detective hats to find out the underlying cause of the problem.
So where do we begin to look for what may be causing these headaches? Here is a list of some of the more frequent causes of headaches:
- Vertebral misalignment in the upper neck
- Food sensitivities
- Food additives and preservatives
- Hormonal imbalances
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Medication side-effects
Vertebral misalignments in the upper neck region are a common finding in headache sufferers and correcting these misalignments with chiropractic adjustments can be very effective at resolving headaches. What causes these vertebrae to go out of alignment? Typically we will find some type of stress that is triggering this problem. These stresses may include mental and emotional stress due to relationships, finances, work and school. Physical stress may include recent or past trauma such as an auto accident or sports injury, poor posture, excessive time at the computer and eyestrain. Environmental stresses such as household chemicals and perfumes, weather changes, airborne allergens, and noise/lighting pollution may also contribute to these vertebral misalignment.
Food sensitivities are often overlooked and can be difficult to identify due to their delayed nature of onset. Sensitivities are different from allergies which typically have an immediate onset. The most common food sensitivities include gluten, dairy, corn and soy. In order to rule out a food sensitivity, you will need to eliminate foods with any of these ingredients for a minimum of two weeks. If you notice a significant improvement, reintroduce one of these foods at a time over 5-7 days to determine which one(s) triggers your headaches.
In today’s society food additives and preservatives are inundated in most of the food we eat. The most common food additive to avoid is MSG, which can go under the guise of many other names including yeast extract, autolyzed or hydrolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), calcium casienate, glutamate and gelatin. Some of the more common preservatives include nitrites found in processed meats such as sausage, bacon, deli meats and hot dogs; and sulfites found in dried fruits, wine and processed foods. Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet) and sucralose (Splenda) have also been linked to trigger headaches. It is imperative that you read labels or you could be incessantly feeding your headaches.
Female hormones, thyroid hormones and stress hormones such as cortisol, when out of balance, can also play a major role in triggering headaches. These hormones can be easily assessed through saliva or blood tests to determine if they are a contributing factor.
Nutritional deficiencies are gaining attention in regards to headaches, especially migraines. These nutritional deficiencies are typically caused by a lack of certain nutrients in our diet or depletion of nutrients by the use of certain medications. The most common deficiencies related to headaches include CoQ10, magnesium and Vitamin B2 (riboflavin). When these underlying causes are suspected, I recommend an Organic Acid lab test which lets us see what is going on at the cellular level in regards to nutrient deficiencies, cellular energy production, and detoxification efficiency.
Lastly, when it comes to side-effects from medications, headaches are often on the list. If you are taking medications, talk to your prescribing doctor or pharmacist to evaluate whether this is a possible source of your headaches.