What you will learn in this article:
- Discussion of the following types of headaches: Bilious, cluster, low blood sugar, menstrual, sinus, tension, tooth grinding, tumor
- Solutions to the above types of headaches
- Difference between headaches and migraines
- Explore underlying causes
- Essential oils to help
Headaches are a topic that is dear to me as I used to get migraines in my twenties every other day. My dad would say: “Oh dear, it’s the rain that’s coming, it’s the weather pressure change.” And sometimes it would rain and often it would not. Bottom line: I had discovered that food sensitivities were the cause of my migraines. More on that below.
This article is more comprehensive though and it goes into the various underlying root causes of headaches. I hope you find your triggers and manage to address your headaches once and for all!
While headaches can come on as a result of a number of different things (including hangover, lack of caffeine, side effects from certain drugs, aneurysm, high blood pressure, spinal misalignment, a blow to the head…) we’re going to focus on food-, hormone-, gut-, and stress-related headaches.
Types of Headaches and Potential Solutions
Bilious headache (Digestive headaches)
This is sometimes called a “sick headache,” as you’ll hear in the 1950s or 1960s sitcoms. This type of headache is characterized by a dull pain at the forehead and a throbbing pain at the temples. It tends to be caused by indigestion or gut issues. Nausea or even vomiting may accompany this type of headache. The fact that some people have relief after vomiting bile is where this headache gets its name.
While the cause remains unknown, the cluster headache is one of the most painful types of headaches. It includes terrible throbbing pain that occurs on one side of the head near the eye. Other symptoms may involve flushing, teary eyes, and nasal congestion. Attacks may occur 1-3 times per day over a period of weeks or months and may last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours at a time.
Some triggers include alcohol (if you’re already in a cluster period), a sudden rise in excitement or heat, or exercising in the heat. Smokers or those who have been exposed to secondhand smoke during childhood have an increased risk.
Because researchers have found there to be increased activity in the hypothalamus during an attack and because they follow a cycle, these headaches may be tied to the body’s biological clock. Changes in sleep routine may also cause an attack.
They are 5:1 more common in men than in women.
Solution: Melatonin, taken at a single, 10 mg dose (although I prefer a lower dose of 3 to 5 mg) before bed may be helpful in avoiding cluster headaches. Other supplements that may help include the amino acid, L-tyrosine, and ginkgo biloba extract. However, ginkgo biloba and other herbs may also worsen headaches or interact with medications.
You may want to consider something as simple as red or amber (blue-blocking) glasses after 7 pm to help with circadian rhythm entrainment.
Use caution and talk to your doctor. These headaches may also be treated with oxygen therapy.
Low blood sugar headaches
If you deal with diabetes or hypoglycemia, it’s possible your headaches are due to low glucose or low blood sugar. A drop in blood sugar quickly affects the brain and can lead to unpleasant symptoms, including dizziness, confusion, and headaches.
Solution: Start working on lowering your sugar and refined carbohydrate intake. Learn about cooking and eating to keep your blood sugar in balance.
Learn more about how food can help rebalance your hormones by registering for our free, 8-day exclusive viewing of the Cooking for Balance lectures below:
This type of headache is obviously unique to women. A menstrual headache feels a lot like a migraine and is caused by a sudden change (usually a drop) in estrogen levels. It tends to occur mid-cycle (ovulation) or before, during, or after menses when estrogen is still low.
Solution: Try supplementing with Vitamin B6, magnesium, and possibly potassium. No matter what, make sure you’re eating plenty of potassium-rich vegetables. Progesterone cream is also highly recommended to address estrogen dominance/imbalance.
Read more about estrogen dominance here. It’s a hormonal imbalance 70% of women suffer from at some point in their lives.
If you have facial pain that seems to get worse as the day goes on and occurs over your nasal/sinus area, you may be dealing with a sinus headache. This type of headache can be due to allergies (including food allergies), infections, or even nasal polyps. But, from my experience, most often this points to candida overgrowth.
Solution: Learn how to get rid of candida here.
Tension indicates stress and it’s not surprising that this is the most common type of headache. The symptoms of tension headaches include constant pain (whether in one place or throughout the scalp), muscle pain with accompanying trigger points in the upper back or neck, and dizziness.
Tooth grinding (bruxism) headaches
If you wake up in the morning with a headache and you know you clench your jaw or grind your teeth at night (or you’ve been diagnosed with a TMJ dysfunction), that may also be a cause of your headaches. And it can also happen during the day. Tooth grinding at night may be a red flag for sleep apnea and/or a misaligned bite.
Hormone imbalances have been linked to sleep apnea, so this may even be a root cause to check out. While obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has been found to occur in just 2% of women, the number of people with the disorder is increasing. Not only that, but a larger number of women, 5-9%, stop breathing more than 5 times per hour, which in the original criteria would have been enough to diagnose them with sleep apnea.
Solution: Here’s where you’re going to want to check with your dentist to see whether your teeth are showing signs of excessive wear, or with your doctor to see about a sleep study – particularly if you know you grind your teeth, snore, or stop breathing at night.
These headaches are obviously very rare and the symptoms are very different. These include vision, speech, and balance issues; plus, changes in personality. The pain tends to worsen over time.
Solution: Please, go see your doctor as soon as possible.
Difference between headaches and migraines
In general, migraines are characterized by a throbbing or pulsing pain that occurs mostly on one side of the head. Accompanying symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, numbness or tingling, and vision disturbances, such as seeing flashing lights or having blind spots. They may also include sensitivity to light or sound.
Headaches, on the other hand, are characterized by a dull pain or pressure that occurs just at the forehand or throughout the top and sides of the head. There aren’t usually symptoms in other parts of the body.
Solution: For migraines, it’s really best to find the underlying cause, as they can be many and varied.
Find underlying causes
Food intolerances are a huge culprit for migraines and headaches. It’s often difficult to tie the offending food to the headache because there can be a delayed reaction. For example, you may not get an inflammatory response from food until up to 72 hours later. You’re probably thinking, “How am I supposed to know what foods to eliminate in order to get rid of my headaches?” Well, the best thing to do is an elimination diet.
Get started by doing the Elimination Diet from my cookbook, Cooking for Hormone Balance – many easy recipes will help you complete the 14-day process.
Additives may also cause migraines. The elimination diet will automatically help you avoid food additives, such as MSG because it’s based on a whole food diet.
Additionally, if you are watching your sugar intake and have been using an artificial sweetener known as sucralose (as found in SplendaⓇ, watch for potential side effects. A 2006 study linked SplendaⓇ to migraines.
Dehydration is another potential cause of headaches. How do you know if you’re getting enough water? Basically, you can take your weight in pounds and divide it by two, then drink the equivalent amount in ounces. So, if you weigh 128 pounds, dividing that by two = 64 pounds. So, drink 64 ounces, or eight 8 ounce glasses of water per day.
I have also found that when you get highly dehydrated, water alone won’t help. I discovered this simple recipe in Sicily after getting severely dehydrated on a volcano hike – that uses salt, lemon and sparkling water – see the Rehydrating Lemon Spritzer, the traditional way of keeping hydrated in Sicily.
Of course, this is just a general guideline. You may need more or less water, depending on your body, your activity level and where you live. If you have been diagnosed with something called Syndrome of Inappropriate Antidiuretic Hormone (SIADH) you probably shouldn’t drink that much. If you’re doing a lot of heavy exercise, live at high altitude, you may need more water.
Deficiencies can be one more thing to check out as a cause of headaches. Low levels of B vitamins have been linked to headaches and migraines, particularly vitamins B6 and B12. I personally use this vitamin B complex to keep healthy levels of B vitamins which are critical also in overall hormone balance and liver detoxification.
Topical solution – Essential Oils
As you can see, addressing a headache or migraine requires digging deeper into your health. Once you address the root cause, you may discover that not only will your headache or migraine improve but many other health symptoms will disappear with it.
However, as you are suffering from a headache, I’ve found lavender and peppermint oil – 1 drop of each on your temples could take much of the pain away. A band-aid but a good one in the meantime!
Balch PA. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 4th ed. New York: Avery; 2006.