Today’s guest post is on food and headaches from someone who’s been there and done that - Jennette Fulda. You may know Jennette as the author of Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir or from her blog, Pasta Queen. She has a new book out called, Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away that is wonderful. This is a book for anyone who has chronic pain or an ongoing illness, knows someone who does, or just wants a fun and entertaining read about a never ending headache.
Though she did blog about her headache, Chocolate & Vicodin isn’t a rehash of her blog posts like many other bloggers’ books. Instead, you’ll read about Jennette’s struggles to deal with her headache while trying to maintain a somewhat normal life of work, friends, family and cat ownership.
You’ll sympathize with her as she makes her way through the medical insurance and healthcare systems without going bankrupt – or crazy. You’ll laugh at her insights into the sometimes wacky world of alternative medicine. You’ll also learn how well meaning advice from friends, coworkers, relatives – and even blog readers – can be almost as difficult to manage as the pain.
As I read Chocolate & Vicodin last week from bed as I dealt with my chronic back pain, I thought it would make a terrific movie. Heck, if the Pioneer Woman can have Reese Witherspoon playing her based on her book and blog, then Jennette should have someone as just as fabulous. Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey or Sarah Silverman - but without the potty mouth – come to mind.
What you eat can be a headache
Three years ago I got a tension headache that wouldn't go away. It felt like an invisible tiara of nails wrapped around my skull and none of the over-the-counter pain relievers could remove it. After I tried aspirin, one of the first things I tried was altering my diet because headaches and migraines can be triggered by certain foods.
Here are some of the things I removed from my meal plan:
Foods containing tyramine
Tyramine is a naturally occurring substance in some foods caused by the breakdown of proteins, usually as foods age. That includes things like cheese, red wine, processed meats, yogurt, soy sauce, and chocolate. You can read a full list of foods containing tyramine on Wikipedia.
Red wines were already nixed because of tyramine, but alcohol is off the shelf, too because it can cause increased blood flow to the brain and dilate your blood vessels. Alcohol is also a diuretic which causes dehydration which leads to headaches.
In small amounts caffeine can help relieve a headache, which is why it's an ingredient in some painkillers like Excedrin. However, having more than one or two cups of coffee or tea a day can cause a headache. Be aware that you might also get a rebound headache if you remove caffeine from your diet suddenly.
Artificial sweeteners and preservatives
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame or Splenda cause headaches in some people, as do preservatives and additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG). You can view a more complete list of dietary headache triggers on the National Headache Foundation’s website.
Eliminating foods may – or may not - work for you
But remember, no two people are alike. What triggers a headache in one person might be well-tolerated by another, and it's possible that your headache trigger isn't anything included on the list. If you want to see if a specific food is causing your headache, you can go on an elimination diet. Remove all the possible food triggers from your diet and then add them back in one by one. Yeah, it's not fun and it can lead to several days of bland eating, but it's the best way to
find out if a certain food is your culprit. Keep a food diary as well as a headache diary to find any links.
I wasn't able to find any specific food that was causing my headache, but I did end up eating healthier as a result of my trials. I used to drink two cups of coffee a day, but now I start my day without it and don't miss it like I thought I would. I used to be scared to use real sugar in my foods because of the extra calories, but I lost that fear after I started using it in lieu of artificial sweeteners and didn't gain weight. I've also greatly reduce my soda intake, though I still love a Diet Dr. Pepper.
Jennette Fulda is the author of Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away and blogger at PastaQueen. Learn more about her at JennetteFulda.com
Disclosure: Jennette’s publisher sent me a review copy of her book.