Headaches
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The most common three types of headaches—tension headaches, migraines, and sinus headaches are caused mainly due to an imbalance of doshas according to Ayurveda. Headaches can be successfully managed by proper diet, external Ayurveda treatment, and internal Ayurvedic medications.

What is headache?

A headache is a pain in the head and neck area that may be a disease in its own right or a symptom of an underlying medical condition or disorder. Most people experience a headache at some point in life regardless of age, gender, or race. It is commonly a symptom of pain anywhere in the region of the head or neck. The most common three types of headaches—tension headaches, migraines, and sinus headaches are caused mainly due to an imbalance of doshas according to Ayurveda.

See: Migraines vs Headaches treatment

How does Ayurveda view headaches?

In Ayurveda, there are three kinds of headaches, categorized according to which dosha (or subtle energy rule ) is out of balance on your mind/body: Vata, Pitta, Kapha.

Vata Headache: If you've got that throbbing, pulsating pain, and the feeling of a group being tightened around your mind, you've got a Vata headache. Neck and shoulder tension, psychological and emotional stress, an irregular sleeping schedule, potential toxicity in the gut (such as constipation), and unresolved fear or stress are known offenders of the headache type. Vata is represented with the dry, cool, fast-moving element of air. When dealing with a Vata headache, our purpose is to alleviate dryness within the body and mind. We also wish to support and clean the gut. Vata headaches need deep relaxation and rest so that it's ok to take that day nap you are craving.

Pitta Headache: A Pitta headache typically starts from the temples and spreads to the central portion of your head. They're famous for their shooting, burning, piercing pain with a dash of nausea and frequently made worse by bright light, heat, or sour/spicy foods. Migraines are associated with this class. Pitta headaches are linked to imbalances in the digestive system, such as acid indigestion, hyperacidity, or heartburn. Pitta is related to the element of fire. Our aim when remedying a Pitta headache would be to cool acidity (fire) from the body.

Kapha Headache: This aggravation type is known to attack most ferociously in the Winter and Spring. Normally you wake up or go to bed with a Kapha headache. It's accompanied by a cough or runny nose, probably gets worse when you lie down or bend over and characterized by a thick, dull feeling in the face and head. Kapha headaches are generally called a sinus headache since they're the byproduct of extra pressure in the nasal cavity. To remedy this sort of headache, one has to alleviate pressure in the sinuses.

Migraine is compared to ‘Suryavarta’ in Ayurveda classics. Surya is a Sanskrit word meaning sun, and Avarta means affliction or blockage. It is predominantly due to Pitta and Vata imbalance. The name Suryavarta is due to the pattern of symptoms in Migraine. The disease or pain starts during sunrise, peaks during midday, and gradually subsides by evening. 

Sinus headaches are mainly due to the vitiation of Kapha dosha. There is an association of Vata imbalance along with Kapha in Sinus headaches. 

Tension headaches are mainly occurring due to an imbalance in Vata dosha. 

Typically, the symptoms can vary depending on Ayurveda body types or Prakruti of an individual. 

Various Causes of Headaches as per Ayurveda 

Suppression of natural urges

Indigestion

Intake of spicy & oily foods

Food intoxication

Emotional Stress

The sudden outbreak of emotions like anger, grief, jealousy, etc. 

Eyestrain caused due to exertion


The treatment approach to Headaches in Ayurveda:

Headaches can be successfully managed by proper diet, External Ayurveda treatment, and internal medications.

External Therapies for Headaches

Shiro Lepa

Application of herbal pastes to pacify the aggravated Pitta – Sandalwood or Chandana, Jatamansi, Camphor, etc.

Shiro Dhara

Pouring the thin stream of liquids like Thaila or oil, Ksheera, or medicated milk or Takra or medicated buttermilk over the scalp. When the involvement of Vata is more thailas like kseerabala, Chandra Nadi, etc. are used for Taila dhara. When there is more involvement of pitta medicated milk or ksheera dhara is done. When there is an obstruction of Vata due to Pitta, Takra Dhara is done.

Shiro Vasti

In this procedure, medicated oils are retained in the scalp region with the help of a leather cap. Vata-pitta pacifying oils are used for this purpose.

 

In addition to the external therapies mentioned above, Nasya or nasal instillation of medicines, Dhoomapana, or Medicated smoking and Kavala or oil pulling can also be done to pacify the aggravated doshas. 

For all three headache types, it is important to follow the diet and lifestyle that will pacify the predominant dosha that is causing your headache. 

For example, in the case of Migraine, a typical diet that pacifies Pitta and Vata is considered ideal. 

See: Ayurveda and Indian Herbs for Sinusitis relief

Diet practices for different types of Headaches

The following summarizes diet recommendations according to Ayurveda.

Diet based on the type of headache:

Type of Headache

Vitiated Dosha

Symptoms

Diet pattern to follow

Other lifestyle practices to follow

Tension Headaches

Pitta & Vata

dull, aching pain in the head, tenderness on the scalp, neck, and shoulder muscles, tightness or pressure across the forehead or on the back and side of the head

Pitta – Vata Diet

Go for warm, cooked, wet foods like stews and soups.

Abstain from cold, dry, and light foods.

Stay away from spicy foods.

Include sweet and salty tastes.

Sweet does not mean sugar. Wheat, barley, rice, zucchini, tapioca and squash all have a sweet taste and are healthier options to have.

 

Practice oil massage daily, this pacifies Vata and calms down Pitta as well.

Depending on seasons, the herbal teas mentioned for Vata and Pitta can be taken.

Stay hydrated always.

Sinus headaches

Kapha

pressure around your eyes, cheeks, and forehead, Not associated with Nausea or Vomiting

Kapha Pacifying diet

Include warm, light, dry foods over cold, heavy, or deep-fried foods.

Include bitter, spicy, and astringent tastes.

Include ginger tea with all meals.

Prefer - Green leafy vegetables, artichokes, beets, carrots, white potatoes, green beans, peas, bell pepper, broccoli, celery, cabbage, sprouts

Practice home-steam treatments for your sinuses.

Eucalyptus, menthol, rosemary, peppermint, and camphor are ideal for clearing the sinuses.

Do exercise daily to mitigate the vitiated Kapha.

Migraine headaches

Vata & Pitta

severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation on one side of the head, nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound

Vata - Pitta pacifying diet

Go for warm, cooked foods and warming spices like ginger, cumin and black pepper.

Favor sweet and salty tastes, while avoiding bitter and astringent foods.

Exclude food that triggers Migraine like caffeine, chocolate, dairy etc.

 

Practice a warm oil massage to pacify Vata and Pitta.

Herbal pack with Rasnadi choorna and lemon juice on forehead eases the pain symptoms.

 

Foods that can trigger Migraine

o             Foods that aggravate Pitta and Vata

o             Dairy

o             Chocolate

o             Baked food items

o             Peanuts

o             Processed foods

o             Spicy and salty food

o             Fermented foods

See: Ayurveda Pitta Diet to Balance Pitta Dosha

Chocolate triggers for migraine

Foods (such as cheese, chocolate or wine) are thought to be one of the popular reasons for triggering of migraine attacks according to consistent reports from the patients. [1]

Chocolate and coffee significantly triggered migraine and Tension-type headaches in a study conducted a total of 684 patients with headache. Some neurologists say it is a migraine trigger because of the presence of amino acid tyramine in chocolate. But the connection could be that women tend to crave chocolate more during stress and hormonal changes and also during premenstrual phase, which also may trigger headaches. 

See: Migraine diet

Can Magnesium help in easing Migraine headaches?

Research on the use of magnesium has found it to be a potentially well-tolerated, safe and inexpensive option for migraine prevention, while it may also be effective as an acute treatment option for headaches including migraines, tension-type headaches and cluster headaches, particularly in certain patient subsets.[2]

Hypo magnesia is generally observed in people with Migraines. There are various opinions about this hypo magnesia seen in patients. During a migraine headache, excessive amounts of magnesium are excreted due to stress. Others propose that stress triggers the excretion of magnesium, with secondary hypomagnesemia causing a migraine. Magnesium levels in both serum and saliva are decreased during Migraine attacks. 

Magnesium is central to numerous physiological functions of the body, and the role it plays in the various aspects of migraine pathogenesis is shown in various studies. Treatment is generally based on clinical suspicion, with both oral and intravenous magnesium available as simple, safe, inexpensive, and well-tolerated options for the management of migraines. In patients with symptoms suggestive of hypomagnesemia such as premenstrual syndrome, cold extremities, and foot or leg cramps, it is ideal to use daily magnesium supplementation with 400mg of chelated magnesium, magnesium oxide or slow-release magnesium. 

See: Why Magnesium is important for your diet

Relationship between caffeine and migraine

Caffeinated pain medications are given alone or in combination with other treatments for Patients with mild to severe headache. It is the most widely consumed psychoactive agent in the world. In humans, the most common sources of caffeine are dietary supply. We usually depend on a cup of coffee for daily activities. Among patients with headache conditions, caffeine is used as an analgesic adjuvant meaning it supports the pain-relieving medication used for headaches. But, coadministration of caffeine can have other effects that are relevant for patients taking analgesics, including interfering with the effectiveness of some therapies.

The role of caffeine in the treatment of migraine is complex and is not yet understood well. Caffeine combination products are useful in treating different types of headaches. [3]


However, an association between caffeine intake and acute migraines has been observed in various research studies. Caffeine withdrawal can precipitate headache for a short period, but the cessation of caffeine may be beneficial in a long run.

Used appropriately, caffeine is found to enhance the effectiveness of analgesics and NSAIDs in the treatment of patients with migraine and Tension-Type Headaches. As every treatment or medicines if used to excess, caffeine-containing analgesics can place patients at risk of medication overuse headache (MOH) and the progressive development of chronic TTH or chronic migraine.[4]

Migraine Elimination diet

An elimination diet, also known as an exclusion diet is a diagnostic procedure used to identify foods that an individual cannot consume without any adverse effects. 

So, how exactly can you figure a Migraine elimination diet?

Food intolerances, allergies, and sensitivities can be figured out through an elimination diet. Remove the food from your diet practices that you suspect that the body can’t tolerate well. Introduce those foods one at a time at a later period to check if the symptoms reappear. 

There are two phases of an Elimination Diet. 

1. The Elimination Phase 

2. The Reintroduction Phase

Here’ how you can practice an elimination diet. All dairy products may or may not trigger your migraine symptoms. To find out if including dairy in your diet will increase the symptoms try the elimination diet in the following manner. 

Remove the dairy products that you suspect trigger your symptoms for a short period of time, typically 2–3 weeks. During this phase, you can determine if your symptoms are due to dairy or something else. Next is the reintroduction phase where you slowly bring eliminated foods back into your diet. Each dairy product should be introduced individually, over 2–3 days, while looking for symptoms like Nausea, throbbing pain, dizziness etc. 

If you experience no symptoms during the period where you reintroduce a dairy product, you can assume that it is fine to eat and move on to the next product. If you experience any negative symptoms you have identified a trigger food and that should be eliminated from the diet. The entire process, including elimination, takes roughly 5–6 weeks.

In a similar way, you can find out each of the food products that cause you a trigger and start eliminating it from the diet. 

The common foods that you can include in your elimination diet are the following.

Chocolate

MSG or Monosodium glutamate

Processed Meat & Fish

Dairy

Alcohol

Caffeine

Soy products

Olives

Vegetables like onions, peas, and sauerkraut

Fruits like Papayas, passion fruit, citrus fruits, dates & figs, raspberries, dried fruits, etc. 

Vinegar

Fermented foods like bread, bagels, sourdough, cakes, and pastries

Aim to eat fresh natural whole foods. Avoid processed foods, cold & stale foods to maximum. When personal food triggers are determined, restricting the intake of these foods contributes to the prevention and minimization of migraine attacks. 

Other facts to keep in Mind for reducing Migraine Symptoms

Eat at regular times of the day because Migraine sufferers often note that missing meals can trigger a headache.

In addition to regular eating times, regular sleep schedules and exercise, are associated with less frequent migraines.

Episodic migraine patients should limit caffeine intake to one or two beverages daily because sudden removal of caffeine can result in withdrawal symptoms. 

It is a great idea to have a food diary to help identify what you ate before migraine attacks because some foods trigger a migraine attack right away.

An ideal diet to pacify the Migraine symptoms is as follows:

1. Half the plate should be whole grains because it has more fibers and vitamins. No white bread, pasta, or white rice in diet. 

2. Another half of the plates should be fruits & vegetables. Include a variety of vegetables, preferably cooked.

3. Drink warm water throughout the day. A big NO to soda and other sugary drinks. 

4. Limit sodium means to reduce processed and frozen meals. It is always good to cook your food from scratch rather than ready to eat meals. 

5. Go Vegan if possible. The practice of abstaining animal products is known as Veganism. Replace animal products with protein- and iron-rich plant alternatives, such as legumes. It is better to avoid nuts but can include healthy seeds in the diet like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, etc. 

See: Proper Diet Eliminates Chronic Migraine and Brain Fog

Summary

A significant relationship between headache and some food items including proteins, carbohydrates, fat, fruits, and vegetables has been found out. More emphasis on the significance of correcting dietary patterns in order to prevent headache attacks and reduce the complications arising from drug consumption in migraine patients must be given. Including herbs like Indian licorice or Yashtimadhu, Indian gooseberry, or Amalaki and Aloe or Kumari can significantly reduce migraine symptoms.  Before practicing any Ayurveda therapy for headaches, it is best to consult a physician. 

See: Amla Health Benefits & Side Effects

References

1. Tai, M. S., Yap, J. F., & Goh, C. B. (2018). Dietary trigger factors of migraine and tension-type headache in a South East Asian country. Journal of pain research, 11, 1255–1261. doi:10.2147/JPR.S158151

2. Yablon LA, Mauskop A. Magnesium in headache. In: Vink R, Nechifor M, editors. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System [Internet]. Adelaide (AU): University of Adelaide Press; 2011.

3. Diener HC, et al. The fixed combination of acetylsalicylic acid, paracetamol and caffeine is more effective than single substances and dual combination for the treatment of headache: a multicentre, randomized, double-blind, single-dose, placebo-controlled parallel group study. Cephalalgia. 2005;25(10):776–787. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2982.2005.00948.x.

4. Lipton, R. B., Diener, H. C., Robbins, M. S., Garas, S. Y., & Patel, K. (2017). Caffeine in the management of patients with headache. The journal of headache and pain, 18(1), 107. doi:10.1186/s10194-017-0806-2


See: Pippali Indian Long Pepper Health Benefits

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