Hunting Headaches Take 2

In the post Hunting Headaches, I shared my headache journal and my inability so far to solve my headache problem or even isolate what type of headaches I’m getting. In the comments, I got a lot of good ideas for things to try next. I created a brand new tab on my headache journal spreadsheet.

4 Things To Track

The new tab does not track weather, pollen, chocolate, Neti pot use, supplements, or the time of the day when I drank my last coffee. None of those variables seemed to matter. From the comments on the last post, I pulled 4 ideas of things to try and track. Now with diet, I normally try and test one variable at a time. That is because the ideas I’m trying have usually been tried successfully by many other people and I’m already at an ideal weight.

With headaches, I’m clearly not in an ideal state. There is something wrong, so trying 4 independent strategies at the same time might help me solve my headache problem. If this works, I can then remove each of the methods until headaches are retriggered to find the guilty party or parties. And if Headache Hunting Take 2 doesn’t work, then I can more quickly eliminate 4 more ideas from the guilty suspect list.

1- Reduce Caffeine

My plan all along was to cut back my coffee intake in the summer. Then Seattle got the Northwest Coffee Festival, which was 10 days of excessive coffee consumption. Last year I did a new style of caffeine detox that worked extremely well. It was a slower detox than the ones you see online, but it was painless and the results were longer lasting. My hope is that reducing my caffeine intake by 50% will result in a measurable decline in headache frequency and intensity.

2- Eliminate Aged Cheese

Giving up dairy completely is not an option for me. I believe I’d lose muscle without dairy. A man can only eat so much beef and bacon. And I would rather be in pain than be a Stick Boy. The good news is I may not need to give up dairy. After Marian’s comment, I went back and took a deeper look at dairy. It seems aged cheese has something called tyramine, which is a trigger for migraines. Now, I am still not certain that my headaches are migraine in nature, but I’m willing to give this a try.

In addition to aged cheese, I found out it also appears in some other foods that I eat. Tyramine is found in sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and Marmite. Oh no! After some deep Googling, I discovered that fermented veggies do not have near the levels of tyramine that aged cheeses do.

The ebook Meal Ideas and Menus: Avoiding High-tyramine Foods Made Easy by Kathrynne Holden, MS, RD actually has real numbers on tyramine levels. Here are some.

Attention: The internal data of table “13” is corrupted!

Who eats just an ounce of cheese? Also, look at the Sauerkraut numbers. Kind of wide range and it is measuring 4 oz. Kimchi is “believed to be high”, but the fermentation for kimchi (using Nappa cabbage) is much shorter, so it is most certainly lower. Miso soup is also “believed to be high”. I was consuming Miso daily in small doses after the Japan accident, but have since cut back to twice a week. I’m also a fan of Marmite, but could easily take a break from that. Another data point I see quoted is that “aged” chicken livers are very high in tyramine. Who ages chicken livers?

UPDATE: I did some digging into the “avoid liver” recommendation in the post Is Liver High in Tyramine?

By eliminating aged cheese and Marmite, I should be cutting out over 90% of the tyramine in my diet. If that doesn’t result in a reduction of headaches, then I can conclude tyramine is not a cause. I’m not cutting out sauerkraut or kimchi. I’ve seen too many positive health benefits from those foods, plus I had these style headaches long before I discovered fermentation.

3-Mobility: Neck, Shoulders, More

I liked Justin’s comment about addressing postural issues with the neck. Because I push pixels, I am at risk of having more neck tension issues. Currently, I do neck and shoulder mobility work every 5th day. I’m going to increase this and add in a few minutes of deep breathing exercises.

4- Aromatherapy

I’ve never thought about aromatherapy for a second. I always assumed it was something sold to old ladies, but then I followed up on GWhitney’s comment about lavender. There are several studies that show improved sleep and health benefits associated with lavender. Since I also love the smell of lavender, I’ll be trying this as well. I’m just glad it is lavender and not orange peels. I’d rather have a headache every night than smell orange peels. 🙂



Add yours

  1. Have you tried taking a magnesium supp?

  2. @Jk – Yes. For the past 2 years, I have taken Magnesium Citrate 30 minutes prior to bed.

  3. I was on a reduced-tyramine diet recently. You also need to avoid liver(!) and very ripe avocados. You probably already don’t eat broad beans (like fava), but they’re prohibited as well.

  4. @Elizabeth – The more I research the liver part, the less I believe it is high in tyramine. Seems aging, mishandling and long storage cause livers to become rich in tyramine and that difference between fresh and something mishandled is tremendous (50 fold).

    I’m getting mine frozen direct from the farmers market, thawing and cooking immediately. I’ll monitor this closely. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. Best of luck! 🙂

  6. Sorry to dredge up a past post, but I just read a WSJ article from 7 June 2011 exploring recent research into pre-migraine warning signs and questioning the causality of triggers to those headaches. The article has the usual flaws (not very in depth, biased toward pharmaceuticals, etc.) but does promote self-monitoring as a key in identifying the warning signs of an impending headache. Know that you don’t think it is migraines from which you suffer, but the article might still be worth a read if you haven’t seen it.

  7. @Geoff – Thanks. Found the article you mentioned.

    Beware, a Big Headache Is Coming

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