What's Causing Your Headache?

Last week in my newsletter (not getting it? Sign up here) I mentioned I'd be writing some blog posts in response to my frequently asked questions + issues I see in my practice.

Headaches are a common complaint amongst my clients and program participants, so soon I'll be sharing with you my favorite tried and true natural remedies for headache relief.

But today, we dig in a little deeper.  While it's helpful to have ways to ease the symptoms of an existing headache, it's far more important to understand WHY you're getting headaches in the first place. That's not really the way we tend to approach ailments in this culture. We are far more apt to pop a pill or slap a temporary fix on the problem than to dig around and figure out the root cause.

Headaches may be commonplace, but that doesn't mean they are normal. They don't just come from nowhere. So let's take a look at some potential headache triggers. These are the common culprits.


Food sensitivities

People tend to think that food sensitivities or intolerances only present as stomach or GI issues. Not true. Joint pain, skin issues, congestion, brain fog, fatigue, mood swings, AND headaches are all common symptoms of food sensitivities.

I have found dairy, gluten, sugar and grains to be some of the biggest offenders with my clients. So how do you know if your headaches are being caused by a food intolerance? Do an elimination diet. Fueled+Fit is a really great way to explore food sensitivities. I've had many participants drastically reduce their headaches and migraines on the program. Check out the next program here.


Food Additives

Food additives are substances added to food to enhance flavor, appearance, texture or shelf life. They include colorings, added flavoring (artificial or "natural"), preservatives, stabilizers, and thickeners. Also included in this category are the nasty little shits called excitotoxins. They are added to foods because they "excite" taste buds (P.S. this makes you want to eat more. Win for the food industry. Lose for you. And the beat goes on...). They also cause neurons to die, leading to different types of neurological issues. They are a bigtime factor in migraines and headaches.

Two excitotoxins you are most likely familiar with: MSG (flavor enhancer) and aspartame (artificial sweetener).


What can do you?

Reduce your intake of processed foods to next to none.

Avoid excitotoxins like the plague. (This is admittedly harder to do with MSG, as it often doesn't present as MSG on food labels. I go into a bit more detail with this in Fueled+Fit.)


Magnesium Deficiency

When a client comes to me with migraines, one of the first things I look at is their magnesium intake. Magnesium deficiency is extremely common. Even if you're eating a diet high in magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, it doesn't mean that you are in the clear. Due to our current agriculture system of fast-growing, pest-resistant produce, soils are depleted and food is less mineral-rich than it once was. Couple that with our chronically overstimulated and stressed out lifestyles AND our highly processed, nutrient-poor diets, it becomes a recipe for deficiency disaster.

Some things that can hinder magnesium absorption or deplete your body's magnesium:


Digestive issues like leaky gut

High refined sugar consumption

High caffeine intake

High soda intake

High alcohol intake (sorry)

Certain medications


What can you do?

Start here: try to buy your produce from organic or biodynamic farms, especially your green leafies. Eat them often.

Next up: soak in an epsom salt bath. You can absorb magnesium through your skin this way, and it feels SUPERB. (Magnesium oil is another way to drink in magnesium through the skin. Some people love it. I find it incredibly itchy. To each her own.)

Keep going: while I'm not a huge supplement pusher, and I definitely don't think that people should be on ALL THE THINGS, ALL THE TIME, I do believe there is a time and a place for supplementation. I have seen many-a-person have success in drastically reducing migraines and headaches with magnesium supplementation.

Some chelates - or forms - are better absorbed than others. I like Magnesium Glycinate.

Magnesium Citrate is another type I like. Magnesium Citrate helps to pull water into the stool and can therefore have a laxative effect. Since constipation can be a sign of magnesium deficiency, this can be a good thing for some! If you don't like taking pills, Magnesium Calm is a powder you can mix with water and drink.

Psssssttttt: chocolate cravings can also be a sign of magnesium deficiency!



Diets high in processed food can be dehydrating as they don't include enough naturally water-containing foods. Clearing up headaches might just be as simple as eating less packaged food and drinking more water.


What can you do?

Eat more water-rich foods (read: whole foods). Reduce your consumption of packaged foods. Determine whether or not you're drinking enough water, and drink more if need be.

Are you drinking enough? What's your body weight in pounds? Divide that by 2. This is how many OUNCES of water you should drink each day. Add 8 ounces for each caffeinated beverage. Add 8 ounces for each alcoholic beverage. Add 8 ounces for each hour of exercise.


Chemical Sensitivity

Headaches might occur after exposure to chemicals in perfume, skincare products, fragranced soaps, deodorants, cleaning supplies, fabric softener, detergents. If this is you, don't pop an Advil to deal with it. Just get all of this stuff out of your house.

What can you do? Choose nontoxic cleaning and beauty products.

Use the EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning to find safe products.

Switch to safer skin care and beauty products. Beautycounter is my favorite high quality toxic-free brand. You can ask me more about the company if you're interested!


Stress & Tension

Stress is kinda to blame for everything, huh? If you're in a constant state of fight-or-flight, your body can't relax. This can lead to LOTS of issues, headaches being one of them. We really need to figure out ways to keep our stress at bay in order to keep our overall health in check. This is one of the reasons I go into stress management so deeply in my Fueled+Fit program.

While stress in your head (mental, emotional stress) can cause stress in the body, tension in the body can also make its way up into your head...in the form of a headache.

Are you a nursing mom with tight shoulders? Headaches.

Do you grind or clench your teeth? Headaches.

Do you sit all day at work? Headaches?

Do you stare at a screen most of your day? Headaches.

Sore shoulders or traps from lifting or yoga? Headaches.


What can you do?

I have found a great deal of success in alleviating tension headaches with deep tissue massage and chiropractor care. If you're local to the seacoast NH area, here are some of my peeps that I highly recommend:

My chiropractor: Dr. Danette Cole, Exeter

Deep tissue massage: Elemental Medicine, Portsmouth and Becky Jenkins, North Hampton


There you have it. Some of the causes of headaches that I tend to see. If you suffer from headaches, I suggest that you figure out your triggers and then work to remove them. Next week, I'll share my favorite ways to kick a headache to the curb when you feel one coming on.