How to Identify What’s Causing your Headaches

How to Identify What’s Causing your Headaches

Over 12 million people in the US suffer from chronic headaches, a condition that has many causes and many triggers. While there are several over-the-counter medicines and prescriptions available to provide temporary relief, lasting freedom from headaches requires a little patience and a little experimentation. See, the triggers that cause headaches are different from person to person. Because of this, figuring out the source of your headaches –– and then what to do about it — is going to require a little experimentation.

In no particular order, here are the most common causes of headaches:

  • Excessive caffeine.
  • Excessive alcohol.
  • The wrong kind of alcohol.
  • Excessive sugar.
  • Poor diet
  • Problems sleeping.
  • Stress.
  • Lack of exercise.

As you can see, some of the causes are broad like having a poor diet, while others are more specific, like having too much caffeine. Headache sufferers should start with the specific triggers and work their way out to more dramatic lifestyle changes.

Step 1. Eliminate Caffeine

Caffeine is the first thing you should eliminate from your diet to see if it is the cause of your headaches. There are a few reasons for this. For one, caffeine isn’t everywhere like sugar is, so it’s a little bit easier to take control of your caffeine consumption than that of some of the other things on this list. More importantly, however, caffeine is a very frequent cause of headaches, so it’s a great place to start.

The goal here is to eliminate caffeine completely from your body for 2-3 weeks and then see how you feel.  For most of us, our caffeine addictions are real and intense, so if you’re currently drinking a lot of coffee every day, taper down to decaf before going cold turkey. When you finally do go cold turkey, pay attention to how your head feels.

If your headaches are…

  • GONE. You’re done! You’ve found your trigger. No more caffeine for you.
  • BETTER: You’re on your way. Caffeine is one of your triggers but there are others at play.
  • STILL BAD: Caffeine is not one of your triggers. Keep looking and go to Starbucks.

Step 2. Eliminate Alcohol

Next, eliminate alcohol from your system in the same way you eliminated caffeine. Stop drinking for 2-3 weeks and see how you feel. Again, if your headaches are…

  • GONE. You’re done! You’ve found your triggers. No more caffeine nor alcohol for you.
  • EVEN BETTER BUT NOT PERFECT. Alcohol is another one of your triggers. Keep searching. There may be others.
  • JUST AS BAD: Alcohol isn’t a trigger. Take a shot to celebrate.

PS. If you discovered alcohol is one of your triggers, don’t worry, you might not have to eliminate drinking completely. Alcohol is a big category that contains lots of different drinks with different ingredients. To identify which of these are the problems, choose one type— say red wine or beer — and stick to it exclusively for a week to see how it affects your body. Try the others. Eventually, you may discover that some types of alcohol have no effect on your headaches, while others make them worse.

Step 3. Eliminate Sugar

Eliminating sugar from the American diet isn’t exactly easy. There’s sugar in so many things and in so many forms that you’ve really got to check the labels and be careful. The easiest way to eliminate sugar from your diet is to eliminate bread and to check labels for sugar words that end in “ose” like: glucose, sucrose, fructose, and so forth. Mainly, you should be eating vegetables and healthful proteins.

Again, after 2-3 weeks of no-sugar experimentation, you can slowly reintroduce sugar back into your diet and see how you feel.

Step 4. Exercise

Exercise is such an excellent way to eliminate your headaches that neurologist Carolyn Bernstein told NPR that she prescribes exercise as often as she prescribes medicine. Exercise has a great impact on your circulatory system, which, in turn, has an affect on how often you experience headaches. Exercise also relieves stress and helps with sleep, two factors that also exacerbate headaches. Most doctors recommend 30 minutes a day. Jogging is better than walking. But walking is better than nothing.

Step 5. Take Herbal Supplements

A variety of herbal remedies have been known to promote natural healing of headaches and migraines. But, naturally healing your headaches takes time. Plan to take these supplements for more than 3 months to start seeing results.

Here are some of the best:

  • Magnesium (400-600 mg/day). Magnesium has been known to reduce the symptoms of headaches and migraines, especially if your migraine usually includes an aura.
  • Riboflavin (400mg/day). Also known as Vitamin B2, riboflavin improves energy metabolism, which may be a factor in the frequency and intensity of your headaches.

  • CoQ10 (100 mg/day). Studies indicate CoQ10 reduces headaches in half of all patients.
  • Finally, our Migraine Pack contains a variety of healthful supplements designed to boost your brain, relax your nerves, improve your digestion and energy levels, and imbue your system with magnesium.