Woman in black and white with red highlighting over forehead to denote headache

Q&A: Help for summer headaches

“I often get headaches, but they always become more acute and frequent at this time of year. Do you have any suggestions? I’m a 45-year old woman and generally in good health. I don’t want to take OTC medication if I can avoid it.”

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer answers.

I’m really sorry to hear about your headaches, which sound very debilitating. There are a number of reasons why people get headaches; many are from tension but they can also be triggered by certain foods. They may be related to a hormonal imbalance, which is sometimes also food-related.

Foods, such as wheat, chocolate, dairy products, monosodium glutamate (MSG), nuts, citric acid, alcohol and dishes that are marinated, may all be culprits. Perhaps you tend to eat more of these types of food during the summer months? Think buns with barbecued beef burgers, ice cream, yoghurts and cheeses, summer parties with alcohol, hot dogs containing MSG, tomatoes which naturally contain citric acid and chocolate and cream desserts. It’s certainly worth considering this possibility.

Alternatively, dehydration can frequently trigger a headache. You’ll naturally be drinking more during the summer months, especially when exercising. If your face often feels flushed, you feel thirsty a lot of the time or your head feels ‘fuzzy’ then dehydration could be the cause. You need to drink at least one and a half litres of water daily. However, if you’ve been exercising, it’s better to re-hydrate with a very slightly sweetened drink (remember that the body is not pure water, it contains solutes including salt and sugar).

A deficiency in B-vitamins can sometimes cause headaches. Make sure you’re eating plenty of wholegrains (an oat-based cereal is great for breakfast), beans, pulses and colourful vegetables.

Finally, you may be suffering from undiagnosed migraine. The foods I’ve talked about can also trigger migraine headaches, which can be debilitating and cause sickness and flashing lights. It may be worth visiting your GP to check this out. If this is the case, the herb feverfew can help reduce the frequency of attacks.

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