If you're someone who is plagued with constant headaches, you might turn to Advil all the time or look to essential oils to help subdue the pain. But if you're still feeling that throbbing in your head, you might want to also consider some little diet changes that can help with your headaches. Just like diet plays a role in your energy levels, how you sleep, and how well you focus, it can also help manage your headaches, and changing up what you eat is a natural way to help relieve your pain.
"The connection between headaches and food is a personalized one," says Maya Rams Murthy, MPH, RD over email. "Although there are some common foods, beverages, and additives associated with headaches, everyone's headaches are unique and may not be triggered by food at all. On the other hand, dietary habits (like fasting, dehydration, or skipping meals) may cause headaches or migraines in some people."
Figuring out what works for you requires some trial and error, and keeping a food journal can help you recognize your triggers. In the meantime, you can start with these 11 little diet changes, which can help most people, in general, get rid of those pesky, unwanted headaches.
1Cut Down On Alcohol
Well all know that if you get a hangover, it can cause debilitating headaches, but even just a drink or two can trigger pain as well. "Sulfites found in red wine, beer, whisky, scotch, and champagne are often connected with causing headaches, especially migraines," says Mandy Unanski Enright, MS, RDN, RYT over email. "Look for sulfite-free options if you would still like to enjoy the occasional libation."
2Increase Your Intake Of Magnesium
Low levels of magnesium have been associated with increased migraines, according to research published in the journal Nutrients. "For those who don’t want to pop a pill to prevent headaches, eating more magnesium rich foods, such as pumpkin seeds, fatty fish, low-fat yogurt, black beans and avocado, can help ward off symptoms," says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD over email.
3Eat Less Processed Meats & Cheese
Tyramine is the byproduct of the amino acid tyrosine that occurs naturally in many foods, most commonly in aged foods like cheese or processed meats. "If you’re prone to headaches, eating food that naturally contain tyramine might make it worse," says Rizzo.
4Add In Some Fish
A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that supplementing with fish oil or olive oil significantly reduced the frequency, duration, and severity of headaches in adolescents. "Therefore, it may be beneficial to add more fatty fish or olive oil to your diet to prevent the occurrences of headaches," says Rizzo. Fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, and sardines contain a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation.
5Eat More Hydrating Fruits & Vegetables
"Watermelon, cucumber, and celery are packed full of water," says Murthy. "Eating these foods may help you stay hydrated, and since dehydration is a common cause of a headache, loading up on water-rich fruits and vegetables may prevent headaches from coming on."
6Drink More Water
While you're at it, drink more water. Even just mild dehydration can cause headaches, according to research published in the journal Headache. Dehydration causes blood volume to drop, resulting in less blood and oxygen flow to the brain and dilated blood vessels.
7Load Up On Ginger
"Ginger may have the ability to block prostaglandins (neurotransmitters that are linked to inflammation), thereby avoiding a slight swelling of your brain that can cause discomfort," says Murthy. "Additionally, ginger may help relieve nausea, which is a common occurrence during a headache or migraine."
8Don't Skip Meals
"Skipping meals or fasting can cause headaches," says Enright. "Aim to eat consistency every 4 hours or so." Going a long time without eating causes your blood sugar to drop, which in turn causes your body to release hormones that are compensating for your depleted glucose levels. This results in an increase in blood pressure and the narrowing of your arteries, causing a headache, according to Columbia University.
9Cut Down On Sodium
"Foods that are high in sodium, such as processed meats, pickles, potato chips, and salted nuts, may cause headaches," says Enright. "This may be a result of sodium causing a similar response to dehydration in the body, which can lead to headaches. Aim to limit processed foods and adding extra salt while cooking or at mealtime."
10Watch Your Caffeine Intake
Depending on your habits, coffee can either help with your headaches or make them worse. "For a person who regularly consumes caffeine and suddenly cuts back, they may experience withdrawal headaches," says Rizzo. "On the other end of the spectrum, consuming more than 400 milligrams of caffeine in a day (around 4 cups) may cause headaches as well."
11Skip The Takeout
Getting Chinese takeout when you're feeling lazy is ideal, but if you're prone to migraines, proceed with caution. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is used to flavor food, is known to cause mild to severe headaches, according to WebMD. Even just small amounts can trigger issues if you're sensitive, so pay attention to how you feel next time you're chowing down on kung pao chicken.