Regularly popping pills for a headache can make it worse, says a new study. What else can you do?
Have lots of sex!
Sex can lead to partial or complete relief from head pain in some migraines, say neurologists. The study found that more than half of sufferers who had intercourse during a migraine episode experienced an improvement in symptoms. It is thought sex triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, which can reduce or even eliminate a headache.
Don’t buy expensive painkillers
Avoid painkillers that say ‘plus’ or ‘extra’. People choose them because they assume they will work faster, but they simply contain added ingredients like caffeine or codeine that might not be suitable for you. See your GP if you’re taking paracetamol, aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for 15 days or more a month.
Sit up straight
Slumping in your chair is the worst thing you can do if your head is pounding. When we slump forward in a C-shape, we kink the head upwards, which can stretch the neck and pinch nerves, causing headaches. So, sit with your feet flat on the floor and keep hips and knees straight, looking ahead.
Avoid ham sandwiches
Ham contains tyramine (a natural substance in preserved foods) and nitrates, which both increase blood flow to the brain, triggering pain. Tyramine is also found in foods that have been preserved, pickled, smoked, marinated or fermented. Cheese and chocolate; and certain fruits like pineapple and bananas, are also high in tyramine or food additives.
Snack on nuts and seeds
These are a great source of the mineral magnesium, which is thought to act as a muscle relaxant. Depleted levels are linked with reduced blood flow to the brain and low blood sugar, which can trigger headaches. Researchers found that up to 50% of migraine sufferers have low levels of magnesium. Other good sources of magnesium include fresh green leafy vegetables, tomato puree, wholegrains, beans, peas, potatoes, oats and yeast extract.
Forget air freshners
Perfumes, aftershaves, strong-smelling soaps, air fresheners and household cleaners contain chemicals that activate nerve cells in our noses, which send signals to the brain. In some people, these nerve signals are strong enough to cause headaches. Open windows and use chemical-free fresheners instead. Use a plant spray half-filled with water and two drops of essential oil and spritz around instead.
Follow the 20/20 rule
Staring at a computer screen for too long can leave you suffering with headaches, sore or tired eyes and even blurred vision. So, look up from your screen every 20 minutes and focus on something 20ft away for 20 seconds.
Be choosy about your takeaway
MSG is a commonly used flavour enhancer extracted from an amino acid that occurs naturally in wheat gluten, seaweed and other produce. It’s used in many foods, from flavoured crisps to sausages and sauces — but it’s particularly associated with Chinese and other Asian dishes. For people who have sensitivity to MSG, it can also trigger headaches by dilating blood vessels in the brain. If you think you’re sensitive to MSG, ask whether dishes contain MSG before ordering a meal.
Wear your hair down
Fifty out of 93 women experienced a headache from wearing a ponytail. Plaits, chignons, tight-fitting hats and Alice bands can all cause headaches if the hair is pulled back tight, straining the connective tissue in the scalp. If you have to tie your hair up for work or exercise, try to avoid the socalled Croydon face-lift effect.
Glug plenty of water
Simply drinking a big glass of water and waiting 10 minutes or rubbing the temples and neck for five minutes to relieve any tension is often sufficient to banish a headache.
Don’t have a lie-in
Sleeping in for just half an hour can trigger a headache, particularly in coffee addicts. Because caffeine directly affects the blood vessels in the brain, withdrawal or reduction during weekends — exacerbated by low blood sugar due to a later breakfast — can cause pain. If you’re a regular coffee drinker, try to ensure you have your caffeine fix at the same time eve r y day.