If there’s one thing everyone on this planet can agree on, it’s that headaches are the actual worst. They’re totally unpredictable — headaches can strike at any time and for a ton of different reasons, so preventing and treating them isn’t easy. Next time you just can’t shake that pain behind your eyes, ditch the Advil and try these natural food fix secrets for headaches instead.
Although it sounds totally crazy, human beings are mostly made of water. So weird to think about, but true! The exact percentage of water make-up varies from person to person, but one thing is for certain: water is incredibly important to survival. According to the United States Geological Survey, water is integral for things like regulating body temperature, keeping your joints moving, and “acting as a shock absorber” for the brain and spinal cord. When you don’t drink enough water, you deprive your body of its most essential building block, which stresses your body out and leads to headaches.
Dietitian and nutrition blogger Andy De Santis told me that women should strive for at least nine cups of water per day, “and more if you are physically active.”
If you’re not a fan of water (it’s boring and tasteless, okay?!), there are a couple hacks that’ll supplement your water intake. Smoothies are a great way to get the water and nutrition your body needs (registered dietitian Jessica Cording recommends this creamy chocolate wild blueberry smoothie), as well as watermelon, which is 92 percent water and also “provides important electrolytes that can help ease a headache,” said Cording.
Don’t skip meals
Just as not getting enough water can cause headaches, so can not getting enough food. Whether you’re dieting, skipping a meal because you ate a little too much cake before bed last night (no judging!), or just forgot to each lunch, skipping a meal can lead to a drastic drop in blood sugar levels. According to the Go Ask Alice team of health professionals at Columbia University, low blood sugar “causes your body to release hormones that are compensating for depleted glucose levels.” From there, you’re looking at an increased blood pressure that “can narrow your arteries” and lead to a pounding headache — and make you hangry!
Raise your hand if you’re not a morning person! For many of us, even just the thought of starting a day without a little caffeine fix causes a headache. Luckily, nutritionist Tehzeen Lalani told me that those who are prone to headaches have an ally in coffee.
“Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, which means it can reduce the size of blood vessels,” Lalani said. If your headache is an allergy symptom, coffee is your new best friend. “Coffee can reduce the release of histamine in your blood,” according to Lalani. “This allergy-fighting superpower comes from the high antioxidants, or phytochemicals, in coffee which is a plant-based food that protects our cells from free radical damage.”
DON’T drink coffee
I know, I know. This is confusing, because I literally just told you that coffee is a headache reliever. As it turns out, that’s not always the case. “Certain foods contain substances that may have an effect on constricting or expanding blood vessels in our brains,” German Nutrition Society (DGE) certified nutritionist Hartje Andresen explained to me, “and thus can cause, trigger, or aggravate migraine attacks.” Unfortunately, coffee is one of these.
Here’s the thing: while coffee and other versions of these foods (like alcohol, chocolate, and cheese — all the good stuff) might make you feel better at first, Andresen said that it’s “the combination of the foods in addition to other factors like stress, lack of sleep, irregular schedule, or strong emotions, that will cause a migraine attack.” Bummer. Instead, Andresen suggests eating things like apples, pears, cherries, grapes, and apricots throughout the day to help regulate your blood sugar level and keep headaches at bay.
Drink more tea
If you’re like me and can’t start your morning without a warm drink but are totally confused by the whole coffee/no coffee thing, try replacing your coffee with tea. Namita Nayyar, president of Women Fitness, told me that peppermint and chamomile are two flavors of tea that work wonders on headaches.
For migraines, Nayyar suggests peppermint tea, while those with tension headaches will find relief from chamomile, which “has anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties and helps to ease emotional tension.”
Add more magnesium to your diet
When you think about all the vitamins and minerals you need on a daily basis, chances are magnesium isn’t even on your radar. Even though it’s not something you hear about every day, magnesium is a proven headache fighter. “Of the different supplements that have been reviewed in the treatment of migraines, my impression is that magnesium (~400-500mg a day) is the most effective,” dietitian and nutrition blogger Andy De Santis told me.
So, how does this miracle mineral work, you ask? Carolyn Dean, MD, stress management expert and author of The Magnesium Miracle explained, “magnesium prevents platelet aggregation, which helps to avoid the thickened blood and tiny clots that can cause blood vessel spasms and the pain of a headache.” This is great news for women who experience period-related headaches,” nutritionist Hartje Andresen added.
Even better, magnesium “relaxes the head and neck muscle tension that makes headaches worse.” The best part is it’s super easy to add more of this headache fighter to your diet. According to Dean, “dark leafy green vegetables such as kale and spinach are chock full of magnesium,” as are raw nuts and seeds.