Integrative Medicine Blog

Oh My Aching Head!

Holly J. Niles MS, CNS, LDN, IFMCP Sunday, June 10, 2018

Headaches are a large category including migraine, sinus, ocular, hormonal and tension as just some of the types. Why do we, as Americans, have so many headaches?

Headaches, according to the CDC, cost about 2.5 billion $ per year in lost productivity and missed work. About 1 in 4 household has at least 1 person who suffers from migraines with women outnumbering men 3:1. Headaches are a large category including migraine, sinus, ocular, hormonal and tension as just some of the types. Why do we, as Americans, have so many headaches? Peering through the lens of Functional Medicine, we search for underlying causes. Headaches are a form of inflammation and the root of that inflammation can be traced to some of the following:

  • Nutrition: Deficiencies/Excess/Low Blood Sugar
  • Food Allergies
  • GI Disturbances/Dysbiosis or imbalances in our gut bugs (bacteria)
  • Toxins/Infection/Heavy Metals
  • Structural/Spinal Imbalances/TMJ
  • Chronic Stress/Poor Sleep
  • Trauma (Physical/ Emotional)
  • Hormonal Fluctuations/Imbalances
  • Genetic Predispositions
  • Weather/pressure changes

Uncovering some common causes of headaches:

  1. Food can be a trigger. Sometimes you can have a gut or immune reaction to food. That reaction or inflammatory response can manifest as a headache. Many people can reduce or eliminate headaches by changing what they eat. The most commonly reactive foods are gluten, dairy, peanuts, soy, eggs and sugar. Additionally, nitrates as food preservatives as well as sulfates in wine can trigger headaches. Keep a food diary to tract symptoms and you may uncover if food is an issue for you. Eliminating foods for at least 14 days is a good remedy to calm that inflammation.
  2. Dehydration can lead to headaches. Your body is about 70-80% water, that equals approximately 14-15 gallons! You need water to purify your system and neutralize waste products. Feeling foggy or unclear, which many people experience, has about a 95% chance of being due to lack of water in the body. So many common health challenges like headaches, fatigue, nausea and constipation are directly connected to dehydration. Pump up your water consumption and see how you feel
  3. Digestive issues or imbalances in gut bugs have an impact on our immune system and the balance of our whole body. Whether you have GERD, IBS, Constipation or any digestive symptom, headaches can be a symptom of those imbalances. Functional Medicine takes a comprehensive view of the gut and the bugs that live there. The steps to getting your gut healthy can improve many symptoms including headaches.

There are many factors that can impact headaches and they can be a debilitating imbalance that negatively impacts our daily life. Functional Medicine offers hope by getting to the root cause.

Here’s a refreshing summer drink!

Lemon Basil Sparkling Water:
3 lemons
1 bunch basil (save a few sprigs of basil for gar­nish)
2 25 oz. bot­tles chilled sparkling water (you may sub­sti­tute with drink­ing water)

Direc­tions: Rinse the basil, set a few sprigs aside for gar­nish, put the rest into a large pitcher or glass con­tainer. Take a wooden spoon and crush some of the basil leaves gen­tly against the side of the con­tainer. Cut 2 of the lemons into 1/8 inch slices and place in the con­tainer with the basil. Pour the sparkling water into the con­tainer with the basil and lemon. Juice the remain­ing lemon and pour into the water. Stir and serve over ice, gar­nish drinks with a sprig of basil. Approx­i­mately 8 servings.

Recipe from