Judging by the sheer number of adverts for mind-numbing medications all around us, headaches surely rate as one of the most common everyday ills. Recently, I read a report in which doctors expressed concern that while analgesics may nuke headaches, they also have the capacity for collateral damage in various parts of the body including the liver, kidneys and the lining of the gut. Also, it is well known that painkiller use has the potential to convert occasional headaches into a much more regular occurrence. For many, it seems that habitual use of headache medication can turn out to be a very bitter pill to swallow indeed.
Those looking for a safer and more effective ways of remedying their brain-ache might do well to look to their diet. My experience in practice tells me that a common but generally unrecognised cause of headache is dehydration. Some believe that a lack of fluid in the body can cause the membranes around the brain to contract, causing feelings of pressure or pain. Whether this is true or not, many individuals prone to headaches find they can banish them or reduce their frequency simply by drinking more water. Quaffing enough water to keep the urine pale yellow in colour throughout the day does often seem to drown the pain.
Another common nutritional factor in headache is caffeine. This stimulant is well-recognised to cause trouble up top, especially as a trigger for one-sided headaches known as migraine. However, in common-or-garden headaches, it is actually withdrawal from caffeine that is often the problem. In my experience, this mechanism is often at play in individuals who wake with a headache, or find they are prone to headaches at the weekend when a Monday to Friday coffee or tea-habit wanes or comes to an abrupt stop. Children, too, may be at also be at risk of caffeine withdrawal headaches, in which case the problem is usually induced through the consumption of caffeinated soft drinks. A half-litre bottle of cola contains about 50 mg of caffeine (a similar amount to be found in half a small of coffee, or a mug of tea). Red Bull, by the way, is charged with about three times this concentration of caffeine.
It is interesting to note that many over-the-counter headache remedies contain a fair whack of caffeine. Caffeine is not believed to have explicit painkilling properties of its own, so one might wonder what it is doing in an headache remedy. Could it be that the manufacturers of these products know that caffeine can relieve headaches by reversing caffeine withdrawal? If they do, then they surely know that the use of such products have the potential to induce headaches, and may lead to a degree of dependency too. Just thinking about what seems to be a cynical ploy by drug companies to keep us popping pills is enough to give me a headache.
For those who habitually use such medication, I recommend weaning from these along with caffeine-containing drinks over several weeks. At the same time, I advise an increased intake of water, perhaps supplemented with decaffeinated drinks or naturally caffeine-free beverages such as herb and fruit teas and coffee substitutes based on barley or chicory. For those suffering from frequent headaches, this basic approach is often very effective in setting the mind at ease.