If you’ve ever experienced throbbing pain around your head after a stressful day at work, woken up after a few too many drinks with excruciating pain around your eyes and temples or felt a lingering pain come on after you’ve skipped your morning caffeine routine, you are no stranger to the common headache.
Headaches have many triggers, from hormonal to environmental, and we often can deduce the reasons why. But if you’ve ever had a headache come on unexpectedly or out of the blue, you may not be aware that the foods you do (or do not) eat, your day-to-day routine and your habits can weigh a toll on your head pain. Here are seven uncommon triggers that may be the cause of your headache.
- Skipping Meals: While skipping out on breakfast or lunch if you’re in a rush may seem like a convenient time saver, it may lead to a headache later on in the day. Skipping meals causes your blood sugar to drop. When blood sugar levels fall too low, your body pumps out two hormones called epinephrine and norepinephrine, which constrict blood vessels in the brain and leave you with a headache. If you do have to skip a meal, keep healthy snacks low in sugar or fresh vegetables with you to munch on.
- Sugar Overload: Conversely, spiking your blood sugar to extremely high levels is also unhealthy and leads to a “sugar crash,” often signaled by sluggishness and headaches. Sugar found in sweets and simple carbs like white bread and pasta are quickly converted to sugar in your body. Bingeing on Halloween candy leftovers, for example, causes a spike in your blood sugar and triggers an immediate headache for some people. Avoid simple carbs and refined sugars and balance out meals with whole grains, lean protein and plenty of vegetables.
- Not Enough Water: Dehydration is another headache trigger that’s caused by your body compensating for a loss of fluid and electrolytes. Dehydration is often the reason why your head could hurt after consuming alcohol. Its best to drink five to seven cups of water a day, and more doesn’t hurt! Keep a reusable water bottle in your purse or car so that water is always handy and you’re reminded to drink.
- Not Enough B2: In my opinion, riboflavin (a.k.a. B2) is a vitamin we don’t hear often enough. It is an essential central component of cofactors in your body that contribute to the anti-oxidative processes and other key roles in the body like helping to convert tryptophan into niacin (a.k.a. niacin). It also is known to help with migraines and headaches. So, eat up on foods high in B2 such as leafy vegetables, yeast, mushrooms, almonds, legumes, and dairy products.
- A Surplus of Sunshine: If you’re heading to the beach on a sunny day, don’t forget a big hat, sunscreen and lots of water. Headaches may occur because of the combination of dehydration and overexposure of the eyes to sunlight. Overheating your body may also cause a painful headache, so be sure to exercise in the shade if you choose to do so outdoors.
- Too Much Screen Time: Do you experience headaches after spending all day at work staring at a computer screen? You’re likely experiencing symptoms of digital fatigue, caused by overexposure of the eyes to a bright screen on a tablet or smartphone. Reading, playing video games and watching TV on a device can tire out the muscles in your eyes, leading to inflammation. Bad posture often associated with slumping on a couch or over your phone is also to blame for causing neck and head pain. Try to limit yourself to a maximum of two hours of digital time outside of work and be aware of your posture and the strain on your eyes.
- Magnesium Deficiency: A deficiency of this vital mineral could be the culprit behind headaches, yet many people don’t know they’re deficient. The modern American diet—a highly processed diet consisting mostly of refined carbs, dairy products and meat—does not provide much magnesium. Fresh leafy greens, nuts and legumes all have high levels of magnesium and should be incorporated into your daily diet.