Headaches: Is it Safe to Self Treat?

Headaches are one of the most common ailments that patients treat with over-the-counter medications. Look at all the headache preparations at the drugstore! Many patients overuse or inappropriately use prescription medications as well. The reason I became interested in “holistic” medicine is because I had terrible migraine headaches. Truly, all “holistic” means that it is more important to find the cause of the problem, in this case headaches, than to just treat the symptoms. A headache is not a Tylenol deficiency!

“Carol” is a 25-year-old woman who came to me regarding her frequent headaches. Daily she had a dull tension type headache, and three or four times a week she would have a migraine headache, as well! She was tired and discouraged. She had tried over-the-counter medications, then sought the advice of several physicians including a neurologist. The neurologist tried her on several medications without success. Carol was tired of taking medications that did not work. The neurologist referred her to me.
What I found when spending time with Carol is that she was drinking about eight to ten Mountain Dews per day!!! After being switched to another caffeine source that was free of sugar, she was tapered off the caffeine. Her headaches became less and less frequent, and increasingly mild.

“Pam” is a woman in her late 40s who came to me because of her long history of migraine headaches. She often would have a low-grade headache on a daily or every other day basis, with debilitating migraines at least twice per week. They had been interfering with her life since childhood.

She had tried every over-the-counter medication with minimal relief, and numerous prescriptions as well. She was tired of the fear that whatever she did might cause a headache. If she got too tired, stayed up too late, got upset, went out in the sun too long-all of these things could trigger a headache. She had already eliminated caffeine from her diet, and didn’t eat a lot of sugary foods. We did some testing and found out that Pam was allergic to several of the foods that she ate dailyWith strict avoidance of these foods, her headaches disappeared! She came in beaming, stating that for the first time she could remember she had gone a whole year without a headache!!

“Tom” is a young man in his early 20s who came to see me because of ringing in his ears and hearing loss. He was pushed by his friends to come see me because he could not hear them when they spoke to him in a normal tone of voice. Tom is a shy person who does not like to complain. He did not really want to admit that there might be something wrong. After a lot of questions, I found that he was having daily headaches and was taking aspirin four to six times per day!! He also was drinking about eight to ten sugared caffeinated beverages each day. I advised him to immediately stop taking aspirin because the ringing in his ears and hearing loss was from aspirin overdose. He actually had aspirin poisoning! I also advised him to discontinue or taper down his caffeine intake and sugared beverages. The ringing in his ears has slowly diminished, and his hearing is slowly returning. His headaches are less frequent now, and he is certainly more careful about taking over-the-counter medications.

“Laura” is a 26-year-old tri-athlete. She developed migraine headaches that were just blinding, occurring more and more frequently. They often occurred after a “work-out.” A mild work-out for her might be to go to a stadium and run around the bottom, run up the stairs, run around the top and then run down again and repeat this cycle 50 times! Her diet was high in sugar. She had tried several over-the-counter medications and at first some of them, especially ibuprofen (Advil) helped. She took it daily and developed stomachaches as a result. After investigating her entire health picture, I determined the cause of her headaches to be the extreme stress on her body and especially her adrenals, caused by intense exercise, a diet high in sugar and other areas of her life colored by perfectionism. Her headaches were more difficult to treat because it was necessary for her to change her timetable for tri-athletic competitions, and give priority to stress reduction in other areas of her life. Her headaches did decrease over time and she has learned how to relax!

Curing or relieving headaches requires more good detective work that any form of magic. Physically, we are, at least in part, the sum of what we eat and drink, and the air we breathe. We are surrounded by and encouraged to take in many products that are simply bad for our systems and bad for our bodies. Many of them are laced with sugar.

I welcome the opportunity to work with patients to bring them, at a reasonable pace, to a more balanced place with their bodies and their lives. Pain recedes. Joy increases. And it’s not difficult. It requires only desire and commitment.