Headaches are one of the most common health complaints in the world. Nearly everyone has a headache occasionally, we accept it as part of being human. Headaches can be caused by many factors, and sadly, women experience headaches (especially migraines) as much as three times more than men. I’ve suffered from migraines since I was a teenager. It’s been utterly debilitating. My “triggers” though, have generally been stress and tension related. I’ve learned that I can manage and reduce the attacks by watching my diet, exercising and getting massages regularly as a form of relieving pent up tension and stress. More recently however, I’ve painfully discovered another major cause of headaches. Hormones! Yes, fluctuating estrogen levels can contribute to the development of chronic headaches appropriately termed “hormonal headaches” or even, “menstrual migraines”.
Whether it’s a debilitating migraine or a dull, constant throbbing, headaches suck your energy, ruin your focus and turn your generally calm self (ha ha) into an even greater, crabbier (yes, it’s possible) mess.
Now the question is, what can I do to manage this hormonal headache curve ball without having to again resort to hectic prescription meds?
HAVE YOUR HORMONE LEVELS CHECKED
Visit your doctor and have them test your estrogen/progesterone balance, as well as your thyroid levels. This can be done with a simple blood test. Your doctor can then more accurately prescribe an appropriate course of supplements and treatments, if required.
WATCH YOUR DIET
Diet plays an important role in keeping the body happy and hormones balanced to avoid the onset of hormonal headaches. Research has also shown that certain foods can increase your risk of headaches, something I’ve experienced and learned myself. Foods high in a substance called “tyramine” are a known trigger, however, this varies from person to person. Try cutting down on tyramine to see if it helps with your hormonal headaches. Here are some foods to avoid:
-Aged cheeses: cheddar, blue, Camembert, Swiss, feta, Parmesan
-Dry sausages, salami, pickled or smoked fish
-Sauerkraut, fermented soy foods, miso, tofu, kimchee, raw onions
-Red wine – yes, you gotta cut out the red wine! For me, it’s a big trigger.
-Concentrated yeast extract, soy sauce, fish sauce, teriyaki sauce
Try and fill your plate with some “mood enhancing” foods instead. In addition to helping you maintain a happy, balanced body, research shows that plant-based foods may help reduce any headache pain. Read our article on Good mood food – the real comfort food to learn more about what you should be eating to help manage your headaches. You can also read more about a low tyramine diet here.
SUPPLEMENT IF YOU NEED TO
Once you have a better understanding of your hormonal profile, you can also use supplements to support nutritional deficiencies that might be contributing to headaches. Magnesium, CoQ10 and 5-HTP are all recommended but you should always consult your doctor about what supplements you need, and what the correct dosage is for you. This will all form part of your consult when you go for the blood test to check your hormone levels.
MANAGE ANXIETY AND STRESS
Stress can directly influence your hormone balance. So, it’s super important to do things to cope with PMS-related mood fluctuations in order to manage stress during the “difficult times” in your cycle. This makes it even more important to exercise, practice yoga, meditate or go for a relaxing massage or pamper session when you’re suffering from menstrual crabbiness. Go to the movies and enjoy a laugh if you have to, but basically try do anything to keep calm and stay stress-free, which may reduce hormonal headaches.
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Staying properly hydrated will also help reduce your hormonal headaches. Prevent dehydration by aiming to drink about three liters of water every day.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS…
If it’s gone beyond all these natural treatments, and your headache has destroyed your will to live then it may be time to consider some meds. As always, it’s best to consult your doctor before resorting to medication. Excess dosages and the wrong meds can cause damage to your gut, liver and kidneys. So, be aware and rather consult a professional before taking anything.
While the occasional headache is normal, hormonal headaches shouldn’t be part of your everyday life or monthly cycle. Prevention is always the best strategy. In the long run it will also cost your wallet and liver less than the painkillers.
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