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Headaches & Migraines


Star foods for headaches and migraines: almond, Blackcurrant, broccoli, brown rice, camomile, carrot, cashew nut, cherry, chilli pepper, extra virgin olive oil, fennel, game, garlic, ginger, honey, kale, linseed (flaxseed), millet, onion, parsley, pear, pineapple, rocket, watercress

There are many different causes of headaches. In children, they often occur through simple dehydration, especially after strenuous sporting activity. Encouraging your child to drink water regularly both at home and at school will prevent this from happening. Headaches can also be a symptom of stress. Anxiety can cause tension in the neck and shoulders, which constricts blood vessels to the head area causing pain. Eye strain is another common trigger than can lead to headaches. It is important to get a child's eyes tested if they suffer regularly. Other possible causes of headaches are poor posture, excessive caffeine intake, caffeine withdrawal, sinusitis, grinding teeth, injury or food allergies.

Migraines are severe headaches that occur on a regular basis and render the sufferer incapacitated for anything from several hours to several days. They are caused by the constriction and dilation of blood vessels around the brain and are frequently accompanied by nausea, dizziness and vomiting. The symptoms of migraine usually start in childhood or adolescence but they do not often manifest themselves as a headache. They are more likely to be in the form of dizziness, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting and severe motion sickness.

If your child were to get a sudden headache, accompanied by symptoms including a stiff neck, nausea, fever, sensitivity to bright lights and a rash, they could be suffering from meningitis or encephalitis and medical help must be sought immediately.

Treating headaches and migraine
Everyday headaches that are caused by stress, tension or dehydration respond well to fluid intake and rest. Using a blend of lavender and camomile oils in the bath can both soothe and comfort a child. Sleep is another wonderfully easy remedy for a headache. Persistent headaches, however, should be investigated because they can be a symptom of a more serious illness.

If your child or teenager suffers from migraine or migraine-type symptoms, it is imperative that they eat regularly. This helps to balance their blood sugar levels thereby avoiding hypoglycaemia, which appears to be a common symptom in migraine sufferers. Hypoglycaemia is low blood sugar. It occurs two to five hours after eating and is usually caused by an inadequate diet full of sugary foods, stimulants (such as caffeine) and refined foods. Symptoms of hypoglycaemia are fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, irritability, anxiety, cravings for sweet foods and an inability to concentrate.

Migraine is classed as an allergic condition. It often runs in families, especially where there is a history of other allergic conditions such as eczema, asthma or hay fever. Between 80 and 90 per cent of those affected by migraine suffer allergies or intolerances to some degree. For this reason, it is important to establish whether your child's migraines are triggered by any food or combination of foods. The most straightforward way to do this is for your child to undergo an exclusion diet.

Studies have shown that the blood platelets of migraine sufferers clump and stick together more than usual and that this may lead to the onset of an attack. Eating foods containing nutrients that prevent platelet stickiness may be effective in some cases. (Of course, avoid any foods that are on an exclusion list if following a migraine exclusion diet.) These nutrients are vitamins B6, C, E and essential fatty acids (EFAs). Foods rich in vitamins B6 and E include peppers, green leafy vegetables, and nuts and seeds and their oils. Citrus fruits, blackcurrants and peppers are good sources of vitamin C. EFAs are found in evening primrose oil and linseed oil. Ginger is also known for its anti-platelet aggregatory effects.

The migraine exclusion diet
This diet excludes the major foods associated with migraine. It should be conducted under the guidance of a nutritionist who can assist with diet sheets and menu plans. Follow the guidelines and avoid the foods listed for one month.

  • Any foods containing caffeine. This includes coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa and fizzy drinks containing caffeine such as cola and “high energy” drinks.
  • Any refined sugar that may upset your child's blood sugar levels. This means avoiding sweets, biscuits, pastries, cakes, as well as soft drinks that may contain sugar.
  • Foods containing histamine: cheese, tuna, sardines, anchovies, salami, sausages, sauerkraut, spinach and tomato ketchup.
  • Foods containing tyramine: cheese, chocolate, yeast extract, orange juice, tomato juice, fish and meats that are pickled, canned or smoked, nuts and seeds (except cashew nuts and linseeds), raspberries, red plums, avocados, bananas, potatoes and preserved pork products such as ham, bacon and sausages
  • Food additives: tartrazine (E102), benzoate (E210-219), butylated hydroxytolueune (E321) and monosodium glutamate (E621)
  • Wheat and dairy products

    After the exclusion period, if your child has improved, you can reintroduce foods one at a time with a 3-7 day interval between each food. This will help to establish which foods are helpful and which are not. If your child does not improve during the course of the exclusion, then a more restricted diet can be used. This needs to be conducted under medical supervision. If you can distinguish the foods to which your child is reacting, eliminate them for a further three months and retest. After this time you may find that you can include the allergic foods in your child's diet again on a rotation basis (offering that food once every four days). However, some children may have to continue to avoid the culprit foods altogether.


    Extracted from Immunity Foods for Healthy Kids by Lucy Burney, text © 2004, published by Duncan Baird Publishers, London.


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