by Lucienne Steel – Naturopath

If you are someone who frequently gets headaches, you’ve probably heard “have you tried a drink of water” more times than you can count. Let’s look at WHY this is the top tip.

Firstly, most people are pretty dehydrated pretty often. You really have to go out of your way to be well hydrated in this busy world. When you’re dehydrated, your brain and other tissues in your body shrink, much like a plump grape becomes a wrinkly sultana as it dries. As your brain shrinks, it pulls away from the skull, puts pressure on nerves and causes pain. Even mild dehydration can lead to a headache.

For most adults, you should be aiming for around 2L a day. If you are active, outside a lot, or breastfeeding, make it more like 3L. As I said last newsletter, also be conscious of the water content of your food.

Fresh fruits, vegetables, soups, stews etc bring their own water to aid digestion and systemic hydration, while crackers, toast, steak and so on require additional water to move through your digestive tract.

Constipation is a secondary factor here: the longer food sits in your colon, the more water, hormones and toxins are reabsorbed back from it. This may also lead to headaches if hormonal imbalance or chemical exposures are an issue for you. A headache caused by dehydration can be dull or sharp, it may be constant or pounding. Easy fix, though: have a big glass of water and wait 15 minutes to see if it helps.

If you reply “yes, thank you, I’m very hydrated”, the next suggestion will be “have you eaten enough today?” This is because when we are hungry and blood sugar levels drop, our body cells send the message that they are lacking nutrients. In response, the body produces vasodilators to widen the blood vessels. This decreases vascular resistance and blood pressure, allowing for better capillary perfusion, meaning nutrients can move more easily into the cells.

Changes to blood pressure in the head can cause headaches. This is particularly likely to be the cause of your headache if you’ve skipped a meal, it’s mid-afternoon or you’ve had a sugar-fest without protein and good fats to slow the blood sugar spike.

Caffeine and alcohol are also notorious for causing blood sugar havoc so indulging too much in those can also be a factor here. A headache from low blood sugar will usually be dull or throbbing in the sides of the head.

Next time you’re reaching for the painkillers for your headache, have a think about what your body might be trying to tell you. Maybe a big glass of water and a meal would fix it!