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David Perlmutter, MD, a specialist in adult and pediatric neurology as well as preventive medicine, has years of experience in dealing with chronic headaches. “Once it has been determined that a headache is not the result of a brain tumor or similarly severe problem,” he says, “numerous options are available to discover the possible cause and to begin treatment.” He believes that “the best approach to the treatment of headaches is prevention, and this requires identifying the cause of the problem.” Three of the common types of headaches are:
- Tension headaches
- Cluster headaches
- Migraine headaches
The most common type of headache among adults is the tension headache, which is usually caused by stress. For some people, even minor stress results in the tightening of the muscles of the head and neck. Regular exercise can help, especially aerobic and low-impact exercise. Avoid exercise that causes strain; for example, weightlifting and push-ups.
Although they are not very common, clusters headaches do affect about one in every 1000 people. They occur in cycles, affecting men (especially smokers) more than women, and can happen several times a day during a cycle. A cycle can last days, weeks, or months, followed by a remission period. Cluster headaches, a type of vascular headache, are thought to be a result of abnormalities in the brain’s blood vessels or vascular system.
Another form of vascular headache, migraines come in many forms. A classic migraine is preceded by an aura, a neurological disturbance that may result in seeing flashing lights or zigzag lines. It may involve tingling in the hands or face, speech difficulty, weakness, or confusion, with intense throbbing pain lasting for one or two days. A common migraine may be preceeded by diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, retention of fluids, mental cloudiness, fatigue, and mood changes. This type of headache can last three or four days.
Steps for headache relief
- Perlmutter has twelve recommendations for getting rid of headaches:
- Identify and eliminate aspartame (NutraSweet), MSG, sulfites, and nitrates from the diet.
- Eliminate caffeine, being especially careful to read food and medication labels to discover hidden sources.
- Stop smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Visit an optometrist for a routine eye examination.
- Avoid tyramine-containing foods such as yogurt, liver, vinegar, yeast extracts, alcohol (especially red wine and champagne), chocolate, aged cheese, and citrus fruits.
- Try a food elimination program.
- Exercise (low impact and aerobic) at least five times per week.
- Seek ways to eliminate stress – try biofeedback or meditation.
- Try taking the herb feverfew under the guidance and direction of your healthcare practitioner.
- Take supplemental essential fatty acids; for example, one or two tablespoons of fresh cold-pressed flaxseed oil daily.
- Keep a headache diary to help identify situations, foods, or other triggers.
- Talk to your healthcare practitioner about vitamin E supplementation.
Although there are drugs available to help with intractable headaches, Perlmutter hesitates to recommend such medications. “Rather than simply treating the symptoms with powerful medications,” he says, “I personally believe that it is more appropriate to diligently work to identify the underlying causes of migraine headaches, and eliminate them.”
For more information, see “What’s Causing Your Headache? How to Identify and Eliminate Migraine Triggers” by David Perlmutter, MD, in the Spring 1999 Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing. Become a member today to receive access to this journal along with many other health and nutrition resources.