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Throb in the head

Bharat Savur | Updated on October 22, 2011

Painkillers don't address the underlying cause of headaches. - Photo: K. R. Deepak   -  Business Line

Don't assume that your headache is only due to work pressure… even your diet could be playing tricks on you.

A lot of people get headaches frequently. Placing their palm on their forehead, they feel heat. If they ignore it when it starts, the headache doesn't quietly exit, it worsens with a roar. Even a painkiller sometimes merely dulls it just enough to make the person minimally functional.

We often think it's due to work pressures. And pain medications become constant companions — after all, work pressures are not going to ease, are they? Meanwhile, the headaches have a mind of their own. Sometimes, you wake up to one killer. Or, late afternoon, it throbs indelicately. A continuous deep sleep at night seems like a luxury and you start being grateful for every pocket of peaceful slumber you get. Mystifyingly, a nap at noon only worsens the pain. There's no real pattern you can pin it down to. So, what gives?

Often, it's due to low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. It means the blood sugar control mechanism is disrupted. The reasons vary — refined foods, sugar, nutrient malabsorption, food allergy…

You can start experimenting and find out what works for you. Do one experiment at a time. If it works, stick to it lifelong.

Tackle food allergies. High-protein foods are, more often than not, the allergens. Cheese and peanuts are particularly virulent. If knocking them off stops the headaches, good for you. Otherwise, add chocolates to your knock-off list. If there's a sensitivity or deficiency in your intestinal enzymes, then your digestive system can't handle phenylethylamine found in chocolates.

If your headache persists, say no to MSG and refined flour ( maida). You've got to be pretty alert to spot allergens without getting too obsessive when you eat out or order in: Check that sandwiches and burgers don't have cheese toppings. Tell the Chinese takeaway not to put MSG in any dish. At a friend's party, avoid chutney — it may have peanuts ground in it for thickness and taste. Often, the walnut /plum cake has a chocolate base. The fruit/mawa cake is safer. Avoid buying cookies made of maida and go for whole grain ones instead.

Caffeine blues. Coffee plays odd tricks. Sometimes it makes the headache better, sometimes it doesn't. Medical ecologists infer that sometimes the headache can be a withdrawal symptom. You don't have enough caffeine in your system, so the headache kicks off. Then you have a cuppa, the addiction gets its fix and…voila! headache gone! Yet, coffee too can be an allergen. Tip: While cutting down on coffee, have vitamin C (10 gm) and a B-complex capsule daily to ease withdrawal symptoms.

Off the hypoglycemic trail. Here, you cut out all refined sugars and starchy foods like rice and corn as well as processed foods from your diet. Eat small nourishing meals every 2-3 hours. Please understand, being hypoglycemic doesn't necessarily mean you've got diabetes. You just need to set your system in order to prevent future complications.

Eat high-fibre foods like oats, bran, moong sprouts. Include fenugreek seeds and berries generously in your diet. Fresh raw vegetables and fruits are great system-stabilisers too. Tip: Every morning, core an apple, sprinkle salt. Eat it on an empty stomach for a few days. Drink a small glass of ripe grape juice daily. It's believed, eons ago, King Jamshed, who had a passion for grape juice, had a well-stocked cellar.

To prevent pilferage, he announced that the bottles contained a poison so deadly that even a small dose would kill the drinker. Well, the queen suffered from terrible headaches and decided to commit suicide by consuming this ‘poison'. Since one dose didn't kill her, she took several small doses over the day. To her amazement, she found her headache had vanished. Since then, grape juice has been prescribed for headaches by alternative-medicine experts.

It is tempting to swallow a painkiller, so easy. But, remember: a headache isn't caused due to a deficiency of analgesics! It relieves but does not cure the underlying condition in the system that triggers the pain. So, use it judiciously, but simultaneously, work on the three areas given above.

Reflect. In any illness or disorder, it is important to reflect. A friend who had tried everything from medication to meditation to alleviate his headaches suddenly felt a great urge to “be left alone.” He said that he didn't want to talk, take or do anything, just sit and muse. Gradually, he began to see that he'd been pushing things futilely. He was always trying to swim against the current of life only to stand still. That lethal cocktail of frustration and anger had caused his headaches and ulcers. Suddenly, he had a great heartfelt longing to let go of everything. When he stopped resisting life's flow and became a dispassionate observer, his headaches lessened in intensity.

Overall, if you stop resisting and relax, and willingly make changes not only in your lifestyle but also in your perspective, most illnesses simply cease to exist. You don't just move towards wellness, you move towards evolution. That's what makes recovering so magical.

The writer is co-author of the book Fitness for Life.

Published on October 20, 2011

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