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by June Butlin(more info)

listed in headaches, originally published in issue 53 - June 2000

Headaches are the commonest symptom in the western world. Anna, a secretary aged 50 suffered from migraine for 33 years, was anxious, depressed, her drugs ineffective. By avoiding all dairy products, additives, preservatives and extremes in temperature she has not had a migraine attack in ten months. Mike, a 35-year-old managing director had a very stressful life, marital problems, and declining health from frequent yeast and bacterial infections. He suffered constant, painful headaches preventing him from working. Through Hellerwork, stress counselling, a well balanced diet to build up the immune system and to target the yeast infection, he is now headache free.

The two main types of headaches are tension and migraine. Tension headaches arise from tightening of muscles in the face, neck or scalp due to stress or poor posture, causing pressurized pain over the entire head. Migraines are vascular headaches preceded by narrowing of the arteries causing visual disturbances, numbness and vomiting, followed by excessive dilation of blood vessels inducing an acute pounding pain.

Pain killers, the most common course of action never cure the problem. The answer is to discover the underlying cause(s) and to encourage the body's own natural self-healing mechanisms through nutrition, lifestyle, relaxation, exercise and bodywork.

1 Stress Headaches caused by stress manifest in tensed muscles particularly in the neck and upper back. Relief can be brought about through confronting stressful issues, relaxation techniques, light exercise, breathing exercises, aromatherapy massage using peppermint, lavender, rosemary and eucalyptus oils.

2 Food allergy and intolerance The main food allergens are eggs, dairy, meat, wheat and oranges along with food additives, specifically, nitrites, tartrazine, monosodium glutamate and aspartame. Once the offending food is identified, remove it from the diet for three weeks and then reintroduce a small amount on three consecutive days. If the headaches do not reappear the food is safe; if they do, eliminate it for six months and repeat the process.[1-2]

3 Vasoactive amines Migraine headaches can be caused by vasoactive amines found in foods containing tyramine, phenylalanine and histamine such as mature cheeses, red wine, chocolate, smoked and cured meats and fish. These foods release histamine and other vasoactive compounds causing blood vessels to dilate. Supplements of Vitamin B6 (25mg 3X) and Vitamin C (500mg 2X) may be useful in activating this enzyme. A histamine free diet should also be followed.[3]

4 Low blood glucose The brain needs a constant supply of blood glucose and if the levels fall headaches can occur. Recommendations are to eat four or five small meals daily containing a mixture of protein and carbohydrate. Avoid processed sugar, refined carbohydrates, stimulants of coffee, tea, cola, alcohol, tobacco and stressful situations.

5 Caffeine Four to five cups of coffee daily, equivalent to 340 mg of caffeine can cause headaches. Avoiding coffee may initially make the headaches worse as the body undergoes withdrawal effects, but perseverance and lots of water to flush the toxins out of the system will help to overcome this.[4]

6 Drug induced headaches Approximately 70% of patients with headaches suffer a rebound reaction from the drugs taken to deal with headaches. The main offenders are analgesic pain relievers and ergotamine drugs, which are used to restrict blood vesssels in migraine sufferers.[5-6]

7 Structural problems Misalignment of the spine and temporomandibular joint syndrome causes tension in the neck and jaw producing headaches. Body work techniques such as Rolfing and Hellerwork, massage, chiropractic spinal adjustment and manipulation address underlying structural problems.[7]

8 Low serotonin syndrome Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, plays a role in the relaxation and constriction of blood vessels. Raising serotonin levels may relieve chronic migraine headaches, as serotonin increases endorphins which have potent analgesic effects and lift moods. Eating serotonin rich foods such as bananas, tomatoes and walnuts and a supplement 5HTP, the precursor to serotonin can increase low serotonin levels. Beneficial levels of 5HTP are 100-200 mg 3X each day.[8]

9 Helpful nutrients and botanicals Two nutrients in particular help to prevent headaches. Riboflavin (400mg) has the potential of increasing cellular energy production, and magnesium (250-400mg) helps to maintain the tone of blood vessels and prevent over-excitability of nerve cells.[9-10]

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) has proved in studies to prevent migraine attacks, but has no value when an attack is in progress. 1-5 leaves can be taken daily chopped in a salad or taken as tablets. 500-600 mg dried Ginger (Zingibar officinalis) in water may also be effective.[11-12]

Migraine sufferers have a high level of platelet aggregation (clumping together) which causes blood clots and increases susceptibility to headaches. Adding essential fatty acids from oily fish, cold pressed oils, nuts and seeds to the diet, and avoiding saturated fat will help membranes to be more flexible and decrease platelet aggregation.[13]

10 Water cures Water cures can relieve headaches. Place feet in hot water to which a pinch of ginger has been added and apply a cold compress to the base of the skull and the forehead, or try a hot footbath with a pinch of mustard.


1. Mansfield LE, Vaughan TR, Waller ST et al. Food allergy and adult migraine. Double blind and mediator confirmation of an allergic aetiology. Ann Allergy 55: 126-129. 1985.
2. Egger J, Carter CM, Wilson J et al. Is migraine food allergy? Lancet 2: 865-869. 1983.
3. Wantke F, Gotz M, Jarisch R. Histamine free diet. Treatment of choice for histamine induced food intolerance and supporting treatment for chronic headaches. Clin Exp Allergy 55: 126-129. 1985.
4. Shirlow MJ, Mathers CD. A study of caffeine consumption and symptoms: Indigestion, palpitations, tremor, headache and insomnia. Int J Epidemiol 14(2): 239-48. 1985.
5. Mathew NT. Chronic refractory headaches. Neurology 43: S26-S33. 1993.
6. Mathew NT. Transformed migraine. Cephalagia 13: 78-83. 1993.
7. Watts PG, Peet KMS, Juniper RP. Migraine and the temporomandibular joint. The final answer. Br Dent Journal 161: 170-173. 1986.
8. Van Praag HM, Kort J, Dols LC. A pilot study of the predictive value of the probenecid test in application of 5HTP an antidepressant. Psychopharmacologia 25: 14-21. 1972.
9. Schoenan J, Lenaerts M, Bastings E. High-dose riboflavin as a prophylactic treatment of migraine: results of an open pilot study. Cephalagia 14: 328-329. 1994.
10. Ramadan NM, Halverson H, Vande-Linden et al. Low brain magnesium in migraine. Headache 29: 590-593. 1989.
11. Murph JJ, Heptinstall S, Mitchell JRA. Randomised double blind placebo controlled trial of feverfew in migraine prevention. Lancet 2 pp 189-192. 1988.
12. Mustafa Srivastava KC. Ginger (Zingibar officinale) in migraine headaches. J Ethnopharmacol 29: 267-273. 1990.
13. Senders TAB, Roshanai F. The influence of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on blood lipids and platelet function in healthy volunteers. Clin Sci 64: 91-99. 1983.


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About June Butlin

June M Butlin PhD is a trained teacher, nutritionist, kinesiologist, aromatherapist, fitness trainer and sports therapist. She is a writer, health researcher and lecturer and is committed to helping people achieve their optimum level of health and runs a private practice in Wiltshire. June can be contacted on 01225 869 284;

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