Headaches & migraines

  • 16 May 2017
  • Reading time 8 mins
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How to use optimum nutrition to solve painful headaches and migraines

Heaches and migraines can be completely debilitating and there are a number of causes or triggers that are worth exploring and eliminating if you are suffering. These include:

  • Blood sugar issues
  • Food intolerances
  • High homocysteine
  • A lack of B vitamins and magnesium
  • Pollution & over-use of mobile phones
  • Neck misalignment and muscle tension

The sugar connection

The first common cause of headaches and migraines is a blood sugar dip. Consequently, diabetics are more prone to headaches. When blood sugar concentration increases, your body tries to dilute the excess sugar concentration by triggering thirst, so you drink more water. If you ignore this signal, the combination of dehydration and blood sugar peaks and troughs can often trigger a headache. The solution is to eat a diet that keeps your blood sugar level even – and avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates. This means never skipping breakfast, eating slow releasing carbs (such as wholegrains, brown rice, lentils and beans) with protein, and snacking on low glycemic index fruit, such as apples, strawberries and pears. Following my low GL diet can make all the difference.

Hidden allergies & intolerances

Another exceedingly common cause of headaches and migraines is hidden allergy or intolerance. In fact, headaches are one of the most common symptoms of allergy. If you do suffer from headaches, it is very important to find out what you are allergic to. The most common offenders are wheat, gluten (the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats), dairy products, citrus foods, and yeast.  it is best ot have an IgG food intolernace test such as Yorktest's FoodScan. A number of additives have also been found to trigger migraines, including caffeine, MSG and aspartame. I discovered that dairy products were one of my migraine triggers. For some people, cheese and chocolate are especially bad news.

The Niacin Cure

I believe that most people who experience headaches have a number or triggers, and thus, a combination of factors can ‘break the camel’s back’. By reducing the triggers, you reduce the chances of headache or migraine. But what do you do if you have one? Instead of taking one of the more common vasoconstrictive drugs, which constrict the blood vessels, try taking 100-200mg of niacin, which is a vasodilator. Start with the smaller dose. This will cause a ‘flushing’ sensation, as well as a feeling of increased heat, but it can often stop or reduce a headache in the early stages. Medical studies have shown substantial relief of migraines by supplementing either vitamin B2 or B3 (niacin). In one study, those taking niacin halved their number of migraines by taking 100mg of niacin every day. I personally take niacin at the first sign of migraine symptoms, and find it’s best to do so at home in a relaxed environment.

Homocysteine and Migraines

Homocysteine is a naturally-occurring protein in the blood that can have a profound effect on blood vessels, which is why high levels are linked to heart attacks and strokes. Dr H Kowa from the Institute of Neurological Sciences Faculty of Medicine at Japan’s Tottori University wondered whether homocysteine might have anything to do with migraines. He recruited 74 patients who had frequent migraine headaches and 261 normal, healthy controls. After testing them for the MTHFR gene mutation, which indicates a tendency to overproduce homocysteine, he found that, compared to controls, more than twice as many of the migraine sufferers had the mutation. And sufferers who experienced ‘aura’ symptoms before a migraine (blurred vision, bright spots in their field of vision, muddled or confused thinking, extreme exhaustion, anxiety, numbness or a tingling sensation in one side of the body) were four times more likely to have the mutation and high levels of homocysteine.

This study suggests that the tendency to migraines might be inherited in many people, due to the MTHFR gene mutation, and that high homocysteine levels might also be involved. That has yet to be proven, but if so it would suggest that a homocysteine-lowering diet and supplement programme, including B2, B6, B12 and folic acid, might prove enormously helpful for migraine sufferers. In one study, those taking high-dose vitamin B2 for four months had substantially less migraines. My recommendation is to test your homocysteine level and supplement with homocysteine-lowering nutrients daily, including B2 (100mg), B6 (100mg), B12 (150mcg), folic acid (2000mcg) and TMG (3000mg).

Think magnesium

There is growing evidence that a dip in magnesium level can trigger a migraine, and giving a high oral or intravenous dose can stop it. One recent study found that, among migraine sufferers, the odds of having a migraine increased by 36 times when magnesium levels dropped below normal levels. Another reviewed 10 studies giving high dose oral magnesium and 11 giving intravenous magnesium, both of which showed a dramatic and significant relief of symptoms. Most studies gave 1,000mg of magnesium.

The strongest evidence for magnesium’s effectiveness is in patients who have, or have had, aura with their migraines. Magnesium may prevent the wave of brain signaling, called cortical spreading depression, which produces the visual and sensory changes associated with aura. Magnesium also improves platelet function and decreases release or blocking of pain transmitting chemicals in the brain. Magnesium may also counter the narrowing of brain blood vessels caused by the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Pollution and mobile phones

Some people find exhaust fumes or gas fumes can trigger a headache. Many years ago I used to commute by car into London, which involved an hour in heavy traffic. My headaches returned. However, if I went in by train, I was much less likely ......

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