According to Headache Australia, it’s estimated that migraines currently affect 4.9 million Aussies, and 20 per cent of the population suffer from migraines at some stage in their lives. It’s also costing the country a whopping $35.7 billion.
So, why is it such an overlooked medical condition? And why is it that we are so quick to take painkillers when a headache or migraine hits?
Although stress, muscle strain and anxiety are the three biggest causes, hydration and nutrition also play a major role.
Here, Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Nutritionist Rebecca Gawthorne reveals six simple tricks to significantly reducing your chance of getting headaches – without reaching for the medicine cabinet.
6 headache hacks for fast relief
1. Hydration is key
“Dehydration causes your brain to pull away from your skull,” Gawthorne explains. That’s why the Better Health Channel recommends women to drink at least eight cups of water per day, and 10 for men.
2. Eat fresh food
Aaaaand you guessed it, another reason to cut out packaged and processed foods from your diet.
“Migraine triggers have been linked to the consumption of added food preservatives like MSG, nitrates and aspartame, some of which can dilate blood vessels and in turn, trigger those pesky headaches,”Gawthorne says.
She recommends replacing all processed foods (check the labels for any preservatives, too) and instead, focus on fresh foods, which include plenty of vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and lean proteins.
3. Ditch the sugar
“Sugar binges or a high sugar diet cause your blood sugar level to jump and crash, affecting the constant flow of glucose to your brain that it needs to function, which can in turn create pesky headaches,” Gawthorne adds. Instead, swap sugary soft-drinks for sugar-free options. Fruit-infused water is an excellent alternative.
“I also love to recreate my favourite treats with no/less sugar, there’s great natural sugar replacements out there such as raw honey and coconut sugar.”
4. Listen to hunger cues
We already know muscle strain can cause headaches and migraines to occur, and that’s exactly what happens when you’re running low on fuel. Starving yourself can actually cause your muscles to tighten and leave your body in a state of tension.
“We are all busy but it’s key to eat regular meals and snacks. If you know you will be going a while between meals choose fibre rich foods like whole grains, veggies, fruit and legumes to keep you feeling fuller for longer.”
5. Fuel your gut
“A recent study has shown that probiotics play a role in positively reducing migraines,” Gawthorne says. “The gut is closely connected with the brain, so consuming probiotic rich foods like yoghurt, miso or Kombucha can help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria and reduce headaches.”
6. Remember everyone responds differently
Gawthorne notes that everyone has their own food triggers, so it’s imperative to listen to your body and if possible, keep a food diary to help you correlate certain sensations to particular foods. “If you suffer from ongoing headaches, keep a food diary and jot down your headaches too – you may notice a pattern!”