Five steps to identify and eliminate headache triggers

Last month on the blog, we discussed the impact that your diet has on your headaches. We covered different additives and chemicals in food that are common culprits amongst my migraine patients. Now that you have an idea of the types of ingredients to look out for, you can begin tracking your diet and identifying your individual triggers. Here are five steps to identify and eliminate your headache triggers.

Step 1: seven day tracking

For seven consecutive days, track:

  • Headaches
    • Time of day
    • Where you are
    • Severity on a scale of 0-10 (“0” being no headache and “10” being the worst)
  • All food
    • Be specific! Instead of “burger and fries”, write “beef burger with tomato, lettuce, Mesquite’s BBQ sauce, brioche bun, yam fries and garlic aioli.”
  • All beverages 
    •  This includes water! Aim to drink at least ½ your body weight in ounces daily. For example, a 150 lb individual would need to drink 75 ounces per day.

Step 2: read all food labels

While the easiest way to do this would be to avoid all processed and packaged food, I understand that’s not always possible. When you find yourself reaching for those package staples, focus on the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, so if an ingredient appears first on the list, there’s a lot of that in it. If it’s last, there’s not much in it. This fact is important for step three.

Step 3:  eliminate all foods high in amines, MSG, aspartame and nitrites for four to six weeks

While this may seem daunting, less intense and frequent headaches is worth the effort. Once you spend some time familiarizing yourself with ingredient lists, you’ll be able to quickly identify which foods to avoid.

Step 4: reintroduce one food at a time

  • Start with fruits and vegetables
    • Items like avocados and dried cranberries on your salad will be an easier transition than soda or cheese.
  • Wait three to four days between reintroducing more foods.
    • If one of the foods causes a headache, having several days in-between introductions will make it easier to identify the culprit.

If you are symptom-free for three to four days, it’s safe to say you tolerate that food well. If you experience symptoms within that time, it’s best to avoid those foods in the future.

Step 5: consider common food allergens and intolerances

  • No headache relief?
    • If you don’t experience less frequent headaches over the four- to six-week testing, consider four to six weeks of eliminating common food intolerances and allergies, such as peanuts, gluten, dairy, eggs, soy and corn. You can also visit a naturopath or dietitian for specific guidance on this elimination diet.

I hope that these five steps have helped guide you to less frequent headaches and an improved quality of life!

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What Is Inflammation?

Misconceptions abound around the topic of inflammation. Some mistakenly believe that this condition is always temporary. Others think inflammation is only caused by infectious diseases. Here are the facts about inflammation, including what it is, how it affects you, and what you can do about it.


The Basics

Inflammation is part of your body’s natural immune response. When you become sick or injured, your body responds by increasing blood flow to the affected area to bring oxygen, nutrients, clotting factors, white blood cells, growth factors, and more to where they are needed. This increase in blood flow results in the five classic signs of inflammation:


  • Heat – More blood means more warmth. Inflamed locations will often feel warm to the touch.
  • Redness – Again, extra blood can cause the area in question to appear pink or red.
  • Swelling – Accumulation of blood, pus, and other fluids often make inflamed body parts swell. This phenomenon is also called oedema.
  • Pain – Pain may result from the inflammation trigger, such as trauma, or from the inflammation response itself.
  • Loss of Function – This problem occurs most often in inflamed joints and internal organs. Inflammation can lead to loss of function, such as joint stiffness or organ failure.


Causes of Inflammation

The chief causes of inflammation are trauma or pathogens. For instance, lifting a heavy object may inflame your shoulder joints and the surrounding muscles. Also, harmful viruses or bacteria could trigger inflammation. A sore throat would be one example.

It is important to note that the inflammation response is non-specific. In other words, the response is not customised to specific pathogens. However, once immune components such as antibodies arrive at the intended site, a tailored response can begin.


Acute vs Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation may be acute or chronic. An inflamed nose resulting from a cold would be an example of acute inflammation; so would a temporary muscle strain. These conditions will improve on their own or with minimal care.

Chronic inflammation is usually a more serious problem. This condition includes injuries that just will not heal as well as persistently inflamed organs. Gallbladder inflammation, for instance, is a type of chronic inflammation.


What to Do?

If you have an inflamed muscle or joint that simply won’t improve, it’s time to see your physician or chiropractor. They will evaluate the problem and determine if the inflammation is the result of an injury or infection. Your provider can then make treatment recommendations.

Treatments may include icing the area, physical therapy, ultrasound therapy, and many other options. It may take a few treatments, but most cases of chronically inflamed joints and muscles do show improvement or even complete resolution. However, it is important that you do not delay your visit and seek care as soon as possible.