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What causes occasional headaches?
Headache pain results from signals interacting among the brain, blood vessels and surrounding nerves. During a headache, an unknown mechanism activates specific nerves that affect muscles and blood vessels. These nerves send pain signals to the brain.
Headaches can be brought on by various toxins, consumed or inhaled. Allergenic or spoiled foods, too much alcohol and various food additives are common triggers. Headaches can also be the first sign of carbon monoxide or other volatile chemical toxins in the air, which is why strongly scented perfumes and cleaning products can bring on headaches as well as cigarette smoke.
Dr. Bob Sheeler is certified as a Headache Subspecialist by the United Council of Neurologic Subspecialties. He practiced at Mayo clinic for over 20 years and was in charge of the headache clinic, and notes that tension headaches are one of the most common types of headaches.
As practitioners, most of us are pretty familiar with a host of common triggers for occasional headaches. The usual list includes:
- Alcohol (esp. wine)
- Certain foods
- Citrus fruit
- Mature cheese
- Processed foods
- Salty foods
- Some beans and nuts
- Food additives, such as aspartame and MSG
- Low blood sugar
- Lack of sleep, too much sleep, irregular sleeping patterns, and restless sleep
- Hormonal shifts
- Flickering lights
- Strong scents, especially some perfumes and cleaning products
- Weather changes
- Pollen/environmental allergens
However, what experts now know is that triggers are not the underlying problem, and may have little, if anything, to do with the actual root cause. Finding the root cause is the most important step.
Headache prevention includes good habits such as healthy diet, good hydration and exercise. Erratic meal timing, low blood sugar and dehydration are common headache triggers. And, not surprisingly, sleep and stress are two lifestyle factors that influence headache incidence.
Getting enough sleep is essential. Six to eight hours of sleep a night appears to be about the right amount for adults. In many people, less than six hours of sleep is linked to more frequent headaches.
Dr. Sheeler says that susceptible people who have a lot of stress in their lives are more likely to suffer from occasional headaches. Patients should consider ways to lower that stress, such as taking time away from work and other stressors. Exercise, yoga, tai chi and other mind/body exercises can be useful in managing headaches of all types.
In addition, there are a few nutritional foundations which may help. In his Headache Protocol, Dr. Sheeler shares his expertise on those that have notable benefit. Your Wellevate account gives you access to the Wellevate Protocol Library’s full catalogue of expert protocols from today’s integrative thought leaders, including Rober Sheeler, MD.
Dr. Robert Sheeler is a Family Medicine Physician practicing Integrative and Functional Medicine in Scottsdale, AZ. He received Chemistry and Biology degrees with honors from Grinnell College in Iowa and attended the University of California at San Diego for Medical School. He practiced at Mayo Clinic for over 20 years during which time he was Clinical Practice Chair for the Department of Family Medicine, Chair of the NeuroPsychiatric Medicine Group and Medical Editor of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter in addition to being Clerkship Chair in Family Medicine and Associate Professor teaching Pharmacology at Mayo Medical School. Certified as a Headache Subspecialist by the United Council of Neurologic Subspecialties and certified in Functional Medicine by the Institute for Functional Medicine, he has also been Board Certified in Integrative Medicine.
His current focus of practice is developing personalized precision plans using advanced biomarkers and leading edge genomics to help each individual reach deeper levels of health and well-being.