Hunting Headaches Take 3

This has been a rough summer for me. Things haven’t turned out as I expected. In addition to personal and financial setbacks, I still have not solved the riddle of my headaches. When I began actively researching a solution to my headaches back in March, I had high confidence that I’d figure it out. After all, I cured my rosacea, gotten leaner, and solved my back pain. All I needed was more data.

Well, not only have I not solved my headache problem, it has gotten worse. And although the advice I have been getting is well-intentioned, most ignores the conditions I’ve described or strategies I’ve tested already. Also, my goal is not to cure the pain once it surfaces, but to prevent it from occurring. Removing the headache is simple. I just lift my head into an upright position and be patient. But, that sucks when it is 3 AM and you really want to sleep.


Hunting Headaches – Background describing headaches and my initial efforts.

Hunting Headaches Take 2 – Four new strategies.

30 Days Without Cheese – Eliminating tyramine as a cause.

My Headache Journal – Data going back to March 24, 2011.

It’s Not a Tumor

A few have suggested that I immediately seek out medical care, because it may be a tumor or something equally dangerous. I looked into this and I have none of the symptoms that are common in those with brain tumors or that have neurological damage. Having me throw away $10,000 to eliminate a slim possibility is not going to happen. Also, it doesn’t explain why my sister gets the same headaches unless we both have the same exact rare condition. Ridiculously slim odds.

I know we live in a fear-mongering climate, but I do not consider my headaches to be an emergency situation. I’ve had them for many years and all other aspects of my health are stellar. So, I’m not surrendering to medical professionals. At the point where I’ve exhausted all avenues, I will. I’m not there yet.

Dietary or Environmental?

I’ve been criticized for approaching this problem almost solely from a dietary perspective. There are a few reasons for that. One, diet is very critical to our health outcomes. Two, I already know at least two dietary factors play a role in my headaches: gluten and alcohol (both have long been eliminated from my diet). Three, my environment has not only changed throughout my adult life (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, San Diego, Seattle), it is something I have less control over. In the end, I expect the cause of the headaches to be multi-factor. If I can eliminate or isolate all the dietary causes first, then I can pursue the environmental side with cleaner data.

The Glass Half Full

Although I haven’t solved my headaches, I have eliminated many potential causes as prime suspects. I’m also eliminating many supplements as potential solutions. This is a good thing. For example, I no longer need to fear chocolate as a potential cause of my headaches. I have enough data to show it is not a problem. There is also no correlation with local pollen counts. So every failed test is not a failure. That is the beauty of self-experimentation. You learn what makes your body tick.

The Next 30 Day Test

It is time to bring out the big guns. I’ve tried many supplements and none have demonstrated that they can reduce the intensity or frequency of my headaches. Combine this with the fact that I already eat super clean and I’m coming to the conclusion that it is not a nutrient deficiency. If there is a dietary component, then it is likely something I’m consuming regularly that my body sees as problematic.

There are two potential causes that come to mind: dairy and caffeine. They are also consumed by my sister as well. My plan all along was to get off the caffeine this summer, but it has proven way too difficult for a number of reasons. And please don’t comment that my sinus headaches are really caffeine withdrawal. They aren’t in the same region of the head and they feel completely different. Caffeine headaches are trivial compared to what I’m going through. Also, I recently did a test where I consumed low doses of caffeine during the night. It made no difference.

That leaves dairy. Dairy is mentioned as a common sinus allergen in the book Healing Your Sinuses. So is wheat and since I’ve already determined that wheat makes my sinus problems worse, logically it makes sense to test dairy next. I can’t recall a single day in my life that I didn’t have some dairy.

I am going to eliminate all dairy for 30 Days and then monitor my outcomes.

I’ll also keep striving to reduce caffeine and practice stress reduction, especially on days where I wake up without a headache. The hunt continues!


Add yours

  1. Are the headaches only at night? Do you grind your teeth in your sleep? Do you sleep in a position that might put pressure on your face/jaw or neck? I’ve been following this and it’s puzzling to say the least.

  2. @Levon – 95% of the headaches start at night. No evidence of teeth grinding. I sleep on my back and have tried numerous pillows. These days, I am using a single bath towel for a pillow.

    Once the headache starts, I place my head on a thick pillow with a slight incline. This reduces the pain just enough to let me fall back asleep.

  3. If you think it’s sinus related have you gone to an ENT? Sinuses are much deeper than most people think. A polyp in the right place can cause problems.

    Try a round of Flonase or preferably, a Dr Grossan’s Sinus Irrigator (search Amazon).

  4. @Stuart – I use a Netti Pot and sometimes a nasal spray. It may or may not help. I’m not convinced either way. I did get crazy vivid dreams when I used the spray.

  5. Alright Mike,

    I got some advice that may be helpful. I broke my nose about 7 years ago. I have not had headaches or anything like that, however I do breathe mostly out of my mouth.

    Recently, I came across a post by Joe Rogan (researching recreational drug use) but he spoke of getting his deviated septum fixed and how it changed his life for the better. I looked more into it since I sort of have the same nose as him.

    Bags under eyes, depression, poor sleep, swollen face in the morning…things I do experience are often the result of poor oxygenation through the sinuses i.e. nose. That convinced me. I scheduled a septoplasty for later this month. The surgeon also said I have a lot of scar tissue built up inside my nose so he is going to go full out aesthetic on me too. He said I would be significantly better-looking as well as experience an 80% improvement in breathing. I am quite excited about it, in terms of form/function and performance art.

    It is costing me quite a bit, but in the end money doesn’t matter. We are nothing more than highly-evolved apes and we should do what we can to make the most of our limited time alive. Maybe look into a septoplasty, you might not even realize your breathing is being compromised, and there may be beneficial side-effects.

  6. In my case, coffee was the cause of my headaches. I speculate, perhaps wrongly, that my years-long addiction to the daily cup eventually was too much for my metabolism.

    I can still drink it but no more than once or twice a month. The “detox” required 6 months coffee-free. Hope it helps.

  7. I do feel for you, MAS…

    Paleo meta theory would suggest eliminating both dairy and coffee, but I can understand the logic of eliminating one at a time… As I mentioned before you might be positively surprised how well raw cocoa powder can replace coffee…

  8. @All – A coffee detox is coming. One of the reasons I moved the dairy detox ahead was because I already had 40+ days of no cheese. It seemed wise to use that momentum now.

    The book I am reading now maps out a stair step approach from least invasive to most. Testing and eliminating possible food allergies is a recommended early step. In the end, I may get a CT Scan, but I need to come armed with data first.

    @Thomas – Neither me nor my sister has every injured our noses. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an anatomical issue, but it makes less likely.

  9. Fred Campbell

    Aug 12, 2011 — 9:06 am

    Hi Mike
    Maybe simplistic – us brits are
    Too much screen time.
    We all seem to spend decades in front of these tiny flickering screens.
    Why not measure what percentage of your waking hours are spent in front of the screen?
    Why not crank things back to a Paleo migratory mode?
    If you decide you are sufferinf too much screen time come over here and spend 2 weeks on the Cambrian Way – the mountains and valleys are all in full HD- You’ve got my email ad –

  10. Fred Campbell

    Aug 12, 2011 — 9:09 am

    Thanks for the guidance on making sauerkraut – I bought some cabbage today and will make it tonight. Over here we have so many Polish in workers that it is easy to buy but it is always better to make it yourself – any – a big thankyou…………Fred

  11. @Fred – You may be right. I have spent more time in front of a screen in the last month than usual. I’ll keep that on the short list of future tests.

  12. Okay. I figured you probably didn’t have a broken nose. But sometimes the septum is deviated during childbirth. Just something to check up on next time you are getting a general physical. Wish you the best. Also are all headaches curable? Meaning are some not the result of any extinguishable cause. Best.

  13. @thomas – Cured would mean a 100% reduction. For me, I would be happy with a 50% reduction in frequency and/or intensity. That to me would mean victory and that I was on the right path.

  14. +1 on the cocoa powder (plain yogurt is my delivery mechanism)

  15. Do you mostly use a laptop computer? I work at a computer all day, and find that the head incline of using a laptop sometimes sets me up for headaches, and sometimes ones that start overnight. The cure for me is to work on my desktop computer with the monitor at eye level.

  16. @Steve – I am 95% desktop and 5% iPod.

  17. Shawn Sanders

    Aug 15, 2011 — 4:26 pm

    Perhaps you are looking in the wrong place? Obviously you will be continuing to eliminate factors such as caffeine and dairy but is it at all possible that there other factors are having a physiological effect on you? I’m not suggesting that a hug will fix your headaches or anything that simplistic but if you have eliminated all of the physical and environmental variables than maybe it’s time to look elsewhere?

    Just a thought…..

  18. @Shawn – Yes, that is the plan. Eliminate the measurable first. Diet is the easiest. Then I’ll probably get like a mini-EMAC device that monitors temperature, humidity, pressure, etc. Once I’ve given up, I’ll have an ENT do a CT scan to see if there is a physical explanation.

  19. did you hear kresser’s latest podcast? he talks about a link with fermented foods and migraines.

  20. @Chuck – Not yet. I’ll give it a listen. Thanks for the tip.

  21. @Chuck – I just listened to the show. Maybe that is it. I was focused on the tyramine and not the histamine. On my list of ideas to test I had histamine, but I never pursued it. Sounds like this needs to be my next test.

  22. How long have u regularly eaten fermented food?

  23. @Chuck – That was my first thought. The fermented foods are recent, however in the past it may have been other histamine related foods or gluten. Beer crushes me. Ales way more than lager. Turns out from my research today, not only do ales have more gluten, but they are higher in histamine.

    I may even experiment with taking anti-histamines before bed.