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Seven Ways to Prevent Chronic Headaches

December 15, 2009 by  

Seven Ways to Prevent Chronic Headaches

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are two headache types and 13 headache classifications. If you have been seeing a doctor for treatment or have been doing some research then you’ve probably come across a number of terms, like migraine headache, cluster headache, tension-type headache, allergy headache, sinus headache and so on.

Despite the advances in medical science, an astonishing 25 million Americans suffer from migraines! And a whopping nine out of 10 suffer from other headaches as part of their daily lives! The headaches are accepted as inevitable parts of life and sufferers swallow prescription drugs as a matter of habit, just as they brush their teeth without giving the action a second thought.

The problem is chronic headaches and migraines take their toll, not only on the body’s ability to maintain a state of homeostasis or wellness, but on the ability to think logically, see clearly and to feel and act appropriately. The impact all of this has on one’s quality of life is shattering: jobs lost, relationships ruined, motivation diminished and happiness disintegrated.

Not all headaches are the same. Not everyone experiences headaches and their symptoms the same way. The same trigger does not always trigger the same type of headache. What’s more, headaches encompass physical, physiological and emotional dimensions. In short, headaches are complex conditions that need a comprehensive approach to achieve their banishment.

Despite what you may have been told, the particular label you place on a headache is less important than taking a multi-pronged approach to returning your body to its natural, balanced state in which headaches are less likely to occur.

After personally suffering from painful migraines for nearly 30 years, I devised an “integrated mind/body approach” to prevent headaches of all kinds from taking hold in the body. Indeed, the key to ending headache pain is proactive avoidance of its causes rather than reactive treatment of its symptoms.
 
Major headache triggers include chemicals in food and beverages and even toxins in the body and air, as well as harboring stress and missing sleep. In order to reestablish cellular balance, one must remove the toxins and stressors that tax the body or learn to deal with them in new ways. For most people, this means a major lifestyle change. Here are seven ways to start:

Be Mindful of Dietary Choices
Eat more fresh items and fewer processed foods. Also, try eliminating suspected food triggers one by one from your diet for two to three weeks and monitor what happens with your headaches. Common culprits include cheeses (such as Brie, feta and Gorgonzola), pickles, chocolate, dairy products (goat as well as cow), alcohol (beware the notorious red wine headache), processed meats (bologna, pepperoni, salami, hot dogs, etc.), raw onions, peanuts, raisins and products that contain MSG.

Stay Hydrated with Plenty of Water
When we become dehydrated, the digestive system, lungs, liver and kidneys can no longer do their jobs as effectively, and this can lead to headaches.

Drink plenty of water every day to help your body expel hazardous chemical residues and toxic build-up. Water cleanses the colon, flushes the liver and kidneys and empties the bowels. I recommend two quarts of bottled or filtered water daily. Please note: caffeinated coffees and teas, carbonated sodas and sugar-filled fruit drinks don’t count toward that total!

Break the Patterns of Stress
Stress, in its many forms, is a leading cause of headaches. So to control headaches, you must break the pattern of stress. Fortunately, there are many ways to go about doing this.

To reduce tension and tightness in the shoulders, neck and back, which can lead to headaches, see a massage therapist or do daily gentle stretches. A chiropractor can work with misalignments that can occur as a result of constantly tensed muscles. I also recommend meditation and deep breathing to quiet the mind and relax the body’s nervous system. Many people benefit from tai chi, yoga, qigong or other gentle exercises that stretch the body and soothe the soul. Find whatever stress relievers work for you—it could be walking, biking, ice skating or whatever.

Taking a multiple B vitamin at least twice daily also helps fight the stress reflex. For many, a magnesium supplement may be useful as well.

Take Deep Breaths
In addition to stress relief, deep breathing ensures a continuous flow of fresh oxygen into the body. Many people’s breathing is too shallow, which means they don’t take in enough oxygen. To get more oxygen into your system I recommend progressive relaxation.

Lie down comfortably with your arms at your sides, and inhale as you tense your toes. Hold for a moment and then exhale as you consciously relax them. Gradually and slowly continue up the rest of the body, mindfully tensing and relaxing the feet, calves, thighs, etc., as you inhale and exhale.

Get Sufficient Sleep
Everyone knows we get cranky and headachy when we don’t get enough sleep. To prevent headaches it’s essential to establish deep and constant sleep patterns.

If you must drink caffeine, avoid it six hours before bed. Also avoid overly stimulating activities such as intense exercise. Stop working at the computer at least an hour or so before bed. Instead, establish a regular, soothing routine, such as taking a warm bath and reading a good book before retiring.

Engage in Regular Exercise
Exercise reduces stress, releases endorphins and dopamine, improves blood flow, works through muscle tension and keeps the body firm and supple. Engaging in simple, regular activities such as brisk walks and simple stretches will go a long way toward preventing headaches, as well as improving health overall.

Exercise at the same time every day, buddy up with a friend or group for accountability and support, and consider a trainer (if only for a few sessions) to help you establish a safe, personalized program. Even very easy, do-it-yourself stretches are beneficial for headache prevention. For example, try the chin-to-chest exercise. To stretch and release tension in the shoulders and upper back, use your hands to gently push the back of the head forward until your chin touches your chest. Repeat several times daily.

Know Your Number
Most chronic headache sufferers can’t seem to find definitive relief from their pain by simply adhering to the above-mentioned suggestions. Unfortunately, the problem is more complex and what I tell patients is that the problem is compounded by multiple trigger combinations.

For me, my trigger number is four within a 24-hour period. I can have coffee, milk and sweetener with no problem, but if I get stressed: Bang! I can eat a hotdog on a white bun, drink a beer and I am fine. But get up with less than eight hours sleep and a headache will show itself. So, when living a lifestyle based on prevention it is important that you know your number… that magic digit that indicates how many triggers you can have in a day or week before the headache returns. And with that knowledge and the right amount of discipline you can keep the pain away forever.

With the above lifestyle changes you can reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches. The time to make the change is now. I wish you the best in this life-changing endeavor.

Yours in self-directed wellness,

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Jeffrey R. Matthews

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  • Richard Pawley

    For years I occasionally suffered from an excruciating migraine that nothing would cure but 24 hours. Eventually I discovered that if I ate chocolate, and aged cheeses like Cheddar, within the same day the combination caused incredible pain. I could eat either one on different days but not on the same day. I would imagine that other physical bodies might have similar combinations that could trigger a severe headache. I have also found that only one medicine can alleviate occasional ‘regular’ headaches or pain caused by problems in my back, a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine which I take once in a while when I don’t want to spend the money at the chiropractor. However, since this is not good for my liver I more often take six capsules of Tart Cherry Extract which does the same thing and doesn’t stress my liver. There is much to learn about health and since the coming financial chaos that Congress and the president are causing will result in fewer doctors and less medicine I suggest it is a good idea to learn as much as possible about such things. I’ve also discovered that a particular combination of spices in southern canned vegetable causes me the same kind of headache but I don’t know what the mix is or even the spices used. I buy the vegetable plain and spice it myself. I have learned to use quality sea salt and natural sugar and believe that the closer we get to nature and the way God created things the healthier we will be. If you can only afford a few things organic and/or natural make them butter and eggs as they are concentrated. The artificial bovine hormone (rBST) is used in all 50 states in milk but is banned in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, France, Germany, Italy – well you get the idea. Trying to find cheese and ice cream made from milk that does have this in it is worth the effort. Many little things add up to health. I stopped drinking unfiltered municipal tap water before Reagan was president and have learned to enjoy many herbal teas along with my caffeinated ones. Remember that our ancestors came from different parts of the world (most likely) and we have genetic diets that affect us as well. Some can benefit from whole grains but apparently many don’t do so well with grains. Much to learn but I think it’s worth the effort, especially since our country spends more money on heath than any nation on earth and yet we are far from the healthiest of peoples.

    • BOE

      I agree with everything you talked about above Richard. I too suffer from migraines almost every day. What I have found is quick changes in the weather. I live in NC and we have freq. pop-up thunder storms,rain,wind..and freq.changes in a 24hr period. I think it is the barometric pressure changes. I can predict a storm hrs before the weatherman.

    • Denise Richter

      Richard, you failed to mention WHY rbST is banned in the countries you mentioned. It is NOT banned for health issues. It IS banned because they have a milk quota system and their market cannot handle the additional milk. You see in our country there is a demand for more milk, because dairy farming is a hard way to make a living and so FEW people are willing to do it.

      Second, how do you know for sure that artificial hormones weren’t used to produce the milk you use? There is no test available that can tell the difference. You are taking a total stranger’s word for it and paying him extra money for it!

      I have lived on a dairy farm for 50 years and can tell you this “consumer terrorism” tactic about rbST is a marketing ploy cooked up by the processors to needlessly separate innocent, trusting, consumers from their money, in an attempt to make a fast buck that they don’t share with the farmer. Which is fine. Because I want no part of their deceitful marketing ploy! All us dairy farmers want is honesty in our product!

  • Joe H.

    Bob Livingston,
    I would like to ask you a question. Do you have any association with Kevin Trudeau? I would appreciate an honest answer. I find him to be very harmful to your “natural” medicine, with his claims of the way he made his fortune and his 70 year age!!! He makes the claim of seventy years of age in his book titled “More natural Cures revealed” when his picture on the cover blatantly shows a man of maybe 40 at most!!!

    • Joe H.

      Bob,
      Could I have an answer? I don’t mean to put you on the spot but it is important to me!!

    • http://www.boblivingstonletter.com/ Bob Livingston

      Dear Joe H.
      No relationship whatsoever.
      Best,
      Bob

  • Frances K Lami

    Dear Dr. Wiley,
    I felt that you were talking to me in your article about pain. It has shattered the quality of my life. I can no longer work after over 30 years of Nursing. I am 58 years old, and I thought that I could go on working forever. I live in Nh. but, I had to go to Colorado to see Dr. John Lowe to finally be diagnosed with food allergies, and severe hypothyroidism. Since I have kept gluten, soy, eggs, and preservatives out of my diet my headaches have significantly decreased. When I’m stressed, or don’t sleep, my headaches return.
    My worse problem is my mid-back. I have extremely tense muscles that feel as though they are twisting and the pain is agonizing. I have had multiple steroid injections which did not work. I went through acupuncture Which worked temporarily, (a day or two after each therapy) I weny twice a week, sometimes three, for 8 weeks. Since this didn’t work, and after physical therapy and consultation with a neurosurgeon, I had surgery, on ruptured discs at T/7-T/9. I continued with stretching exercises. I am in extreme pain. I have osteoarthritis in my spine, and my neurosurgeon told me that the pain may not be helped with surgery but since my spinal cord was compromised and I did so well with a previous cervical surgery that we decided to go ahead. I would have done anything!!!
    I saw a Dr. in hypnosis, She has been my greatest hope so far. I listen to tapes, meditate, and use visualization exercises. Visualization was very hard for me because you have to concentrate and it’s hard to concentrate when you are in pain. It takes practice. I have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Ihe latest research has found that there is a lack of creatine in the muscles of fibro patients. I have started on this along with a protocal of vitamin and mineral supplements found in Dr. Lowes book, THE METABOLIC TREATMENT OF FIBROMYALGIA. I just wanted to say that even if you are not allergic to foods, a gluten free diet may help because you learn to eat healthier foods, without the preservatives. Our bodies were never meant to take in those chemicals.
    If anyone has another idea to help me with this agonizing back pain, please help me! Thank you, Fran Lami

  • Ken H

    I have chronic headaches that have been diagnoised as related to ocpital nerve irriation. I had a disectomy c-5 with bone graft and removal of large bone spur. I experinced 98% relief for approx. 5 months. The pain has returned going up the left side of my head and down into my left shoulder and left shoulder blade. I had a occipital nerve block approx. 2 weeks ago with abou 40% of the time. I am at my wits end and feel like life isn’t really worth living if I have to indure this pain for the rest of my life. Is there any hope for me? Thank you, Ken H

  • Nancy R

    Yes, the trigger for me was gluten, gluten, gluten, which is in about every processed food! My son and daughters suffered from headaches every day until we removed gluten from their diet. Amazing how our world has improved. Focus, straight A’s for the kids, less attitude, fatigue and no more headaches for any of us!

  • Nancy R

    Ken, I was severely Vitamin B deficient due to wheat and gluten intolerance which resulted in malabsorption of nutrients. B deficiency is neurological. Have you ever been tested for that? Not the doctor blood work but the vitamin deficiency blood work. Through B supplements my neurological pain has gone way down. Pernicious Anemia. After 18 surgeries, I had to think outside the box for treatment. My auto-immune disorder is pretty much in remission with the gluten diagnosis and also pinpointing and getting treatment for vitamin deficiencies. Hope this helps.

  • sherry elaine

    I have suffered from headaches all my years .52. Usually migraine type. Tylenol usually makes me nauseated and after I throw up I m good.Yesterday I ate spicey bojangles instead and the ache immediately gone.? Love the idea of the cure. B12 does seem to reduce the intensity of headaches.

  • Robert

    I got divorced 18 years ago and haven’t had a headache since.

  • Earl, QUEENS, NY

    GOOD COMMENT!! As for the rest of the country, let’s hope conservatives can win in 2010 and 2012. If we could put the leftwing Demon-crats out of power for good, it would mean fewer headaches for all Americans!!

  • toby

    there is data to suggest vitamin D deficiency is a cause of migraine and many other chronic pain conditions. As we are nearly all walking around with suboptimal levels it is something to look into. Here is a site with a lot of good information on vitamin D: http://www.vitaminD3world.com

  • http://debjbtay@att.net debbie

    I’ve been searching for help for 36 years. I awoke with a severe headache 36 years ago, I was hospitalized and tested, as they have done numerous times since, ALL kinds of tests and doctor. I have tried everything from neurologist, biofeedfack, chiroprators, hypnotists, accupunture, accupressure, every item I have seen on tv, in magazines, newspapers, all kind of quack products, people are praying for me, and I and grateful, I have pain 24/7 the only change is in the severity of the pain. I feel for all of you in pain, how empathize. Just to have relief, pain pills, dull the pain some, but doesn’t get rid of it and I hate to have been putting my body (liver and all) through all of the medicine, when it doesn’t get rid of the pain, but each of us look for a little relief to try to participate with life. I grieve over all of the time in my life that has been lost to the pain. I worked, struggling thru the pain, until my body wore out from trying to be a wife, mother and director of admissions in a nursing home and had to quit after 15 years, I was then diagnosed with fibromyalgia and some other problems, as well as needing to care for both my mother and father(Alzhimer’s) I have started with a chemical pharmicaligist who has been trying me one some new natural items, I had gotten where I had no adreneline left, according to test, and all of my hormones had been depleted. I am able to get out of bed now and go to church and participate in activities that I haven’t been able to in Many years. But the pain is still there. How I wish we could all find some relief from the pain that has taken so much away from us. Debbie

  • Connie

    I’m so sorry you are suffering. Oddly enough, you sound exactly like me. I have tried accupuncture, Holtorf natural medicine/bioidentical hormones, rheumatology regimen for fibro, sumatriptan succinates and triptans for headaches, drugs to sleep, OTC drugs, and now hollistic/chiropractic medicine. I still have headaches. I have learned how to lessen the intensity by just going to bed with ice and not pushing it. I know many triggers, but some are just unavoidable. It is difficult at best to be ill all the time. I just try to make the best of it and make a concentrated effort to be positive and not let it consume me. I have read many things on fibro and chronic fatigue lately. My therapist saw Dr oz show and had me look it up. If you are interested copy and past this in your browser: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/complementary-medicine/200912/got-cfs-dr-oz-tackles-the-xmrv-virus There may be some hope for us. God Bless..

  • Dr. Mark Wiley

    Dear Fran,
    Your story is heart wrenching. I am sorry for all of your suffering over the years, and how this has forced an untimely halt to your career. You must know that you are not alone in your suffering and many people face the problem of “doing whatever it takes” to find not even a cure but mere relief from their pain and suffering. I am one of them.

    The main thing that I see in your story is a large number of diagnoses, like arthritis, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, food allergies, hypothyroidism, metabolic syndrome… and I am sure that is only a partial list. The reason many people cannot find relief is that the Western medical approach is based in specialties, a drilling down to label a disease and then to focus on that disease. If one would step back and look at the entire picture they could see patterns and broader issues that overtime are the cause of the more specific ones. Unfortunately, this does not often happen and it does take quite a bit of one-on-one time with physician and patient.

    Most of the ailments listed above can be triggered by food, sleep and exercise issues and do not need to be labeled or treated differently. Maintaining a strict diet and sleep/wake cycle as well as at least walking 20 mins per day, should help over time.

    The other issue I see is the “trying” of treatments. It is true that the initial effects of chiropractic and acupuncture are short lived. But over time, what they are hoping to accomplish, is a change in the body system so the body can remain in balance. With acupuncture, most protocols call for 10 visits as one course of treatment. If the results are less than spectacular, another course of 10 treatments is called for, this time with a change in point prescription and/or herbal therapy.

    I know what it feels like to live in pain every day, and I know when something does not work right away, and if it is time consuming, we tend to dismiss it. However, non-invasive holistic therapies do take a while to do the job they are used for, and this expectation should be established by the practitioner before treatments begin. As a patient, you must ask enough questions at the onset so that you can set your own expectation and be willing to continue treatments over a course of time, even several months before giving up and saying “it didn’t work.”

    Giving up too soon not only reduces the possible effectiveness of the therapy, it also starts one thinking that their issues are uniquely horrible and untreatable. And this is not where one wants their mind to go.

    Post surgical pain and stiffness is common, and aside from physical therapy it is difficult to overcome. My suggestion would be to consult a well-trained and practiced acupuncturist/herbalist, give them your story in detail, let them do a complete intake exam and then set for you a course of treatment in acupuncture/bodywork/herbals… and to follow the program for the allotted time. Midway through they should do a re-exam and adjust the program accordingly. Give it your time and attention, show up for all the visits, do all of the exercises as directed, take the herbs every day and see how you feel in a few months.

    Again, I am sorry for your pain. I hope at least something in this reply can help you…

  • Dr. Mark Wiley

    Dear Ken,
    There is always hope. Do not give up. It just takes the right amount of “something” for change to happen.

    If indeed your migraines are triggered by occipital nerve irritation, then receiving a series of chiropractic or osteopathic adjustments, doing a series of forward, side and diagonal neck stretches several times per day, finding the correct pillow to sleep on, and also making sure you have sufficient intake of the B vitamins should help correct the issue.

    Think from the simple: nerve pain can be caused by vitamin deficiency, so get more nutrients. Nerve irritation can be cause by cervical compression, which is due mostly to muscle tightness, so using a proper pillow and stretching the neck to keep it supple is the way to go. The manual adjustments will help restore correct alignment as you correct things on your end.

    Put these ideas to use, everyday, and see how you feel in a few weeks.

  • Dr. Mark Wiley

    Thank you for sharing, Toby. Not only vitamin D, but most vitamins. Our diet is horrendous.

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