Lots of people suffer from headaches. In fact, almost everyone experiences them once in awhile.
And new research out of Johns Hopkins has found that 1 simple ingredient in your diet may be the cause.1
Let’s take a look at the study to find out what it is.
Researchers assigned about 400 people to follow 1 of 3 types of diet plans. They were either low, medium or high amounts of this particular ingredient:
Group #1 consumed 1.5 g per day of the ingredient (a low amount).
Group #2 consumed 2.4 g to 2.5 g per day of the ingredient (a medium amount).
Group #3 consumed 3.2 g to 3.3 g per day of the ingredient (a high amount).
At the end of the study, they found that Group #1 experienced a third fewer headaches than Group #3!
So what was the ingredient that caused Group #3 to suffer through so many headaches?
Now, you may be thinking, we already know a high intake of sodium can lead to high blood pressure … which can lead to headaches. But the really interesting part of this study is that the link between lower sodium intake and fewer headaches was independent of blood pressure.
In other words, when the researchers controlled for blood pressure (and other potential confounding factors such as age, sex, race and weight), they found only the high sodium intake was significantly associated with headaches … regardless of the type of diet consumed.
Slash the salt
Healthy people should limit sodium to no more than 2,300 mg per day. Yet the average American is taking in about 3,400 mg per day.
I know what you’re thinking … that’s not you. You hardly touch the salt shaker, so your sodium intake is probably just fine.
Wrong! There’s hidden salt in so many things you eat. In fact, over 75% of dietary sodium comes from eating packaged and restaurant foods.
So what can you do to cut the salt and still add flavor to your food?
- Make soup from scratch. Canned varieties can contain up to 1,000 mg of sodium.
- Throw a cinnamon stick or a pinch of cardamom or ginger into the pot of water before boiling rice, pasta or hot cereal.
- Sprinkle a little dried thyme into your scrambled eggs.
- Add fresh lemon juice to fish and vegetables.
- Rinse canned beans under cool running water. Better yet, simmer dried beans yourself. Make a big batch on the weekend and freeze in single-serving portions to use during the week.
- Roast or grill veggies to bring out their natural flavor.
- Liberally sprinkle grated lemon zest, chopped herbs, garlic, shallots and onions on chicken and turkey.
Other head helpers
Cutting salt can be a good way to prevent headaches before they start (not to mention, reduce your risk of high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart disease and stroke). If you want some other ideas, here are a few more things you can do to keep your head feeling healthy.
- Good, old-fashioned clean living. Stop smoking, reduce the amount of alcohol you’re drinking, eat and sleep on a regular schedule, and make sure to exercise regularly.
- Hot or cold packs. If a tension headache hits, dip a washcloth in hot water, wring it out, fold it into a compress, and place it on your forehead or the back of your neck to relax tight muscles. For a migraine, do the same thing but with icy cold water.
- Ginger tea. Grate some ginger and steep it in hot water for a few minutes, then strain.
- Take a breath. Relaxation techniques can do wonders for tension headaches.
- Take frequent breaks from activities that trigger or provoke headaches. Set your alarm for 30 minutes when you’re using the computer, watching television or sitting at your desk … and get up to get a drink of water and take a short walk.
- If you get a lot of headaches, a headache diary can help you identify triggers. Include the day and time the pain begins, what you ate and drank over the past 24 hours, how much you slept, and what you were doing right before the pain began.
Do you have a favorite headache cure? I’d love to hear about it.
Steve Sisskind, M.D.
Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.
As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.
Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?
I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.
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1. Amer M, Woodward M, Appel LJ. Effects of dietary sodium and the DASH diet on the occurrence of headaches: results from randomised multicentre DASH-Sodium clinical trial. BMJ Open. 2014 Dec 11;4(12):e006671. PMID: 25500372.