Headaches and Migraines



Headaches are one of the most common complaints seen by primary care physicians and neurologists. There are different types of headaches. The two most common are migraine and tension headaches. Headaches tend to occur as the body attempts to detoxify. Nutrition is the key to effective detoxification and resolution of headaches.

 
  • Overview
  • Action Plan
  • Ask The Doctor
  • Success Stories

Overview


The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported a prevalence rate of headaches was 22.7% in the U.S. Headaches were the fifth leading cause of visits to the emergency room and accounted for 1.2% of outpatient office visits. The majority of headaches were experienced by women ages 18-44.1

Symptoms of migraines usually include a pulsating, throbbing, unilateral headache, worsening with movement that can be associated with nausea, vomiting, photophobia (difficulty looking at light), phonophobia (difficulty with hearing sounds), and even stroke-like symptoms. Tension headaches cause a dull ache with the sensation of tightness or pressure around the forehead, sides, and back of head, like a band around the head. This may be accompanied by tenderness of scalp, neck, and shoulders.

Often times, headaches are the symptoms we feel when the brain mobilizes toxins accumulated as a result of earlier stress. As the body tries to mobilize ingested toxins or those made by the body as a result of metabolism, feelings of weakness, fatigue, spasms, abdominal pain, and headaches can ensue causing he/she to either eat food or ingest a medication. This contributes to the toxic load preventing complete detoxification and resolution of the headaches. When people treat their headaches with medications, they are halting the body’s detoxification and cause a vicious cycle of recurring headaches. If the body is deficient in antioxidants and phytochemicals, the body can be unable to adequately remove the toxic products of metabolism. Medications are not the answer and are often part of the problem. I have seen hundreds of cases of severe chronic headaches resolve with a Nutritarian diet. Occasionally, an elimination diet is necessary to see which foods are potential triggers.

 
References
  1. Smitherman TA, Burch R, Sheikh H, Loder E. The prevalence, impact, and treatment of migraine and severe headaches in the United States: a review of statistics from national surveillance studies. Headache 2013, 53:427-436.

Action Plan


Diet

  • A Nutritarian diet without modification can most often resolve chronic headaches. It is helpful to avoid the most allergenic foods, like eggs, dairy, chocolate, sweets, soy, meats, protein powders, caffeinated beverages, food additives, alcohol, and salted foods.
  • If headache is persistent and not significantly improving after a month, follow an elimination diet for 2-4 weeks, further avoiding nuts, vinegar, and even in some rare cases, beans. If that helped, then begin reintroduction of all types of beans again individually; each type of nut individually; then vinegar, tofu, and tempeh (in any order). For example, after avoiding the above foods and noticing improvement, introduce almonds and monitor for symptoms over the next 48 hours. If tolerated (no headaches), then reintroduce each of the other nuts and monitor separately. Later, reintroduce each type of bean, tofu, tempeh, and vinegar to see if these are triggers.
  • All other foods eliminated should not be reintroduced. If there are any other known triggers, then they should be eliminated from the beginning.
  • Avoid caffeine. Patient will initially suffer withdrawal symptoms.
  • Avoid alcohol.

Medication withdrawal

Continued use of headache medication, such as anti-inflammatories, triptans (e.g. Imitrex), caffeine, etc., will perpetuate reoccurrence at regular intervals due to the need for detoxification. Stopping medications will cause rebound headaches but this will slowly resolve while on the Nutritarian diet. Work with your physician to reduce and then eliminate medications, especially because some medications, such as narcotics, beta blockers, and others, require a gradual weaning and should not be suddenly discontinued.

Stress relief

  • Meditation and other stress relieving techniques can decrease migraine frequency.
  • Exercise and physical therapy are effective for those with migraines and tension headaches.1
 
References
  1. Gil-Martinez A, Kindelan-Calvo P, Agudo-Carmona D, et al. [Therapeutic exercise as treatment for migraine and tension-type headaches: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials]. Rev Neurol 2013, 57:433-443.

Ask The Doctor


The following are sample questions from the Ask the Doctor Community Platinum and higher members can post their health questions directly to Dr. Fuhrman. (All members can browse questions and answers.)

Q.

I have been following a Nutritarian diet with great results. I was off blood pressure medication within six weeks (after having been on it for ten years), and I’ve lost 20 pounds (I now weigh what I did when I was 22). At age 47, I feel more athletic and healthier than I have since I was in my mid-twenties.

My final area of struggle is migraine headaches. I’ve had them since high school. When I was on blood pressure medication, they were suppressed. Since coming off the blood pressure medication, my migraines have returned.

I have twice gone on your “headache diet” with limited results (I did a three-day and five-day fast before going on the headache diet). My frequency of headaches has not diminished at all (about once a week). The duration time of the headaches seems to be lessening; however, it often seems like a small consolation.

Do you have any suggestions?

A.

I promise you that I can get rid of your migraines now, because you have improved your health so much already and have been following the plan and are off meds. The last piece of the puzzle for you is to increase the detoxification potential by using cruciferous juices and blended salads to increase the intake of raw cruciferous compounds from watercress, broccoli, arugula, parsley, bok choy, and others. Have the green stuff in a base of carrots sometimes and tomatoes at other times. Have the raw baby bok choy, the raw broccoli, and shredded cabbage every day and then have fresh squeezed juice twice a day.