Last Sunday, I woke up with a bothersome sinus headache. I knew that it was connected to the pollen floating around from the previous day. In fact, as my family and I were driving back and forth for our errands, my son looked out the car window and pointed to the small white wisps and said, “Look at all the pollen blowing in the wind!” I rarely get headaches at all, thank goodness, but unfortunately headaches are all too common for many people that we know and love. Common triggers for headaches may include:
- Foods such as ripened cheeses, chocolate, vinegar, and fermented foods
- Drug-related reactions
- Hormonal factors such as menstruation and pregnancy
- Visual stimuli such as glare, eyestrain, and flicker
- Odors and smells such as paint and exhaust fumes
- Seasonal factors such as sudden changes in weather, humidity, heat, and cold
- Allergens such as pollen
- Head trauma
- Neck pain
- Sexual intercourse
Chronic headaches can result in lost peace of mind and income. It is estimated that 156 full-time work days were lost because of headaches, at a possible cost of $25 billion in lost productivity. So it is absolutely important to identify these triggers and to prevent these headaches from occurring if possible. And most importantly, seek professional medical attention if you are a chronic sufferer.
On the rare occasions that I do have a headache, there are certain foods that I like to indulge in for relief. Here are some of them:
Green tea leaves contain caffeine (I know, I know, I just said caffeine may be a trigger—I’ll explain), theophylline, essential oils, and polyphenols. Okay, caffeine influences the central nervous system by decreasing fatigue, increasing wakefulness, and facilitating idea association. That’s why we like it now and again, but moderation is the key. In addition, theophylline causes a relaxation of the bronchial smooth muscle and stimulates on a respiratory level. This is beneficial for those of us who are suffering from allergy-related headaches. Also, those polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that boost our immune system, definitely a plus when healing your body. Green tea is my beverage of choice for most mornings. I have it plain without an ounce of sweetener (it took me a while to get used to that!) with a dash of amla powder and lemon or ginger juice.
Cayenne Pepper contains the compound capsaicin that stimulates circulation and aids digestion. Some evidence suggests that capsaicin has strong anti-inflammatory properties that may be useful in treating conditions such as neuropathic pain. And some clinical studies have found that capsaicin may be effective in relieving and preventing sinus headaches, cluster headaches, and migraine headaches. Cayenne peppers also contain vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. I like to sprinkle cayenne pepper on my morning avocado toast on when I need it.
I grew up with a Jamaican mother who wouldn’t hesitate to put fresh garlic or garlic powder on any meal she was preparing for dinner that night. And when I say garlic, I don’t mean a dash. I mean a full-blown massive attack where you are walking away with some halitosis. I am proud and, a little bit scared to admit, that I inherited a little of her sensibilities when it comes to this plant. I don’t think I put as much garlic in my dishes as she did, but just enough for my husband to yell that he can smell it from the living room 😊. Garlic is a stimulant, antiseptic, antihypertensive, and carminative. This plant has vitamin A, C, sulfur, iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium and manganese. But most importantly, garlic contains compounds such as allicin that have antioxidant properties for scavenging the body for those damaging free radicals, which is definitely helpful when combating pain. I like to have raw garlic cloves with my dinner for that extra boost of flavor.
One major rule in my household is that we use garlic and ginger in treating a lot of common illnesses like colds and coughs. Again, it’s the Jamaican background, my friend. Ginger, like garlic, is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. This plant has been studied as a treatment for conditions such as post-operative nausea and vomiting. But some studies indicate that ginger may be as effective as medications like sumatriptan for treating acute* migraines. I like to have a spoonful of fresh minced ginger first thing in the morning before eating any meal. Lately, I’ve been enjoying this brand below.
I have spoken about why it is important to have magnesium as a staple in your diet here. Magnesium deficiency may be associated with headaches. For example, some studies have shown that low magnesium levels have been found in patients with cluster headaches. And it has been reported that magnesium may be an effective complementary treatment for migraines. I like to take the preventive route and have a high magnesium food like chickpeas with rice when I feel the slightest bit of pressure coming on.
So these are some of the ways I ward off headache woes. How do you do it?
*Again, please note that I am not a medical professional, so it is absolutely important to consult one before using any method to treat a serious condition.