I just finished reading a book that provides a new framework for understanding my headaches. Since March 2011 I have been diligently trying to track down the cause of my late night headaches. I’ve had them for many years, but only recently decided to seriously pursue their cause. I’ve done many tests and tried numerous supplements, but haven’t found the cause. At times I felt I was getting close, but the data hasn’t shown that I’ve made any improvements.
Part of the problem I discovered when trying to research headache causes is that there is a web page out there for every suspect. You can go mad trying to figure out and weigh true risk factors from the extremely rare conditions. Heal Your Headache has a clear message about the roots of headaches and what steps we need to take to fix the problem.
Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain by David Buchholz, M.D.
It’s Likely Migraine
The first thing Heal Your Headache explains is that most headaches are migraine in nature and that a lot of misunderstanding stems from that label. A headache with migraine roots need not have classic migraine symptoms. A migraine can manifest as sinus pain or neck stiffness or tension headaches. The author makes a very strong case that what I’ve falsely labeled as a sinus headache is really migraine in nature. A good chunk of the book goes into this labeling and why other explanations for headaches are often false.
The 1-2-3 Program
The 3 steps of Heal Your Headache are:
- Avoid the “Quick Fix”
- Reduce Your Triggers
- Raise Your Threshold
The Quick Fix
A headache occurs when the cumulative triggers exceed our pain threshold. That makes sense. Triggers can be dietary, weather and/or stress based. They can also come from medication we are taking. Headaches may or may not occur at the time those triggers are present or they may occur later when the triggers aren’t present. This makes the testing approaches I’ve taken so far pretty much worthless, because removing a single trigger (or class of triggers) may not be enough.
Heal Your Headache advises a strict dietary approach that removes the major triggers and then after being 4 months in the clear, start adding back foods to see if specific triggers can be isolated. Four months is a lot longer than any test I’ve done so far.
Raising your Threshold
I didn’t understand most of this section. It talked a lot about specific medications taken in small quantities that could raise our pain threshold once we’ve removed our triggers. This seems like a nice place to be. My take is that I need to focus on finding and reducing triggers first. If I win that battle, I can always revisit this section later.
The good news is that if I accept the premise of this book and remove the dietary triggers that my headaches could be cured or greatly reduced. The bad news is the #1 trigger for migraines is caffeine. Caffeine also paradoxically can make the migraine pain go away in the short term. The author states that this help in the short term increases headaches in the long run.
Other dietary triggers include:
- Processed Meats and Fish (bacon, sausage, ham, etc)
- Cheese, Yogurt, Sour Cream, Buttermilk, Kefir
- Alcohol and Vinegar
- Certain fruits and juices (citrus fruits, bananas, raisins, raspberries, plums, avocado, figs, dates)
- Certain Vegetables (onions, sauerkraut, lima beans, lentils, navy beans, fava beans, pea pods)
- Fresh Yeast-Risen Baked Goods
- Maybe List – Fermented soy, tomatoes, mushrooms
This book does give me hope that solving my headaches may be possible. However, the idea of living without caffeine in Seattle may be too much of a challenge even for me. Coffee isn’t just a drink for me. It is an important component of my social network and a core hobby. If caffeine is the culprit, I may need to move away from Seattle. Heal Your Headache has given me a lot to think about.