Last March I decided to finally figure out the cause of my late night sinus headaches. I started a headache journal, ran numerous tests and tried several supplements. Nine months later and I still haven’t figured it out. The good news is that many of the things I suspected might be an issue were cleared. Also I have learned how to better respond to the pain, so even though my headaches haven’t decreased, my sleep quality is gradually improving. I’m not ready to give up and surrender to a doctor. Partially because I don’t trust them, but also because I still have a few more ideas to test.
Photo by FunkyPancake
Innocent Suspects and Useless Supplements
Before I list the new ideas, I will cover what I already tried and tested that didn’t reduce the frequency or intensity of my headaches.
- Seasonal Patterns – Headache frequency is the same throughout the year.
- Allergy Markers – Headaches have no correlation to pollen or allergen levels.
- Tyramine Restrictive Diet – Tyramine is often a problem with migraine sufferers.
- Aromatherapy (ghetto) – I tried a cheap lavender fragrance dispenser. It did nothing. I might need to test an essential oil model.
- Dairy Free – I did a 30 Day Experiment without dairy. No difference.
- Nut Free – I also did a 30 Day Experiment without nuts.
- Chocolate Test – Could not detect any difference when removing chocolate.
- Neti Pot – For a long time I felt the Neti was reducing the intensity of my headaches (not the frequency), but recently I’ve been less of a believer.
- Daily Stress Levels – For 30 Days I tracked my stress level. I found no correlation to headaches.
- More water – Did nothing as well.
- Coffee Detox – This summer I dropped my coffee levels very low and then took 2 weeks off. It didn’t help, but I probably constructed this detox improperly. More on that later.
- Humidity – When I left Ohio, I thought I was onto something regarding the room humidity level. It turned out to be a false lead. I think a humidifier may reduce intensity on extremely dry nights, but it isn’t a cause of the headaches.
- Acupuncture – I did a few sessions of acupuncture, which did nothing to help.
Here is a list of supplements that I have tried that did nothing for my headaches. Note that there are infinite possibilities to test when you consider dosage, length of test, timing, and quality of the supplement. I did my best when testing these. None showed even the slightest benefit. Had one done something, I would have tested it further with different doses or timing.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Headache Suspects in Early 2012
- Neck Stiffness – For years I’ve had intermittent stiff neck issues. After reading the book 3 Minutes to a Pain Free Life, I became more aware of just how correlated they are with my headaches. On mornings when I had a headache, my neck was stiffer. Did the neck pain cause the headache or did my headache cause my neck to clench? Dr. Murray Grossan wrote: “Real sinus pain is actually rare, even when the patient is blowing yellow mucous out the nose. In many cases the “sinus headache” is really “referred” pain from the neck. Feel the back of your neck. Does the pain travel to the front of your forehead? This is because of the hookup of the nerves; painful stimuli radiates to the front area above the eyes.” Even if my neck issues are unrelated to my headaches, I am working on getting them resolved. So far the exercises in the 3 Minutes book have been ineffective for my neck.
- Histamine – A few months ago I went to a cider tasting. After only a few ounces, my face turned red and I had a splitting headache for a day. At first, I assumed the cider had gluten in it or that it was the alcohol itself. There was no gluten in it. The book Healing Your Sinuses mentioned a histamine link to sinus pain. So I tested drinking vodka and gin as the book suggested, and I had no problems. Recently I began making water kefir and I noticed I was getting the same flush sinus headache. Even though the alcohol level was extremely low, the histamines were present. So what other foods contain high levels of histamine? Sadly, I learned fermented veggies have high levels. That might explain why it feels like I had more headaches in 2011 than in 2010. But, histamine has a very short half-life. So I don’t know if that could be the cause of something that wakes me up 5 hours into my sleep. Also, I haven’t noticed a response when eating kimchi or sauerkraut during the day. Liquid histamine sources clearly affect me, whereas solids I am uncertain about. Maybe quantity and length of ferment also play a role? More testing is needed.
- Tannins – This is something I am just beginning to look into. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information on this topic. Some people are headache sensitive when they consume foods or drinks with tannins. What do I consume that has tannins? Tea, coffee, and fermented foods. Yikes! One site mentions that the food addition carob bean gum is very high in tannins. I’ve never looked for it before, but apparently, it is common.
- Mycotoxins – Frequent commenter GWhitney turned me on to a health podcast called Upgraded Self Radio. One of the topics that is frequently mentioned is the presence of mycotoxins in certain foods and our environment. Mycotoxins are molds that are present in many foods. Since I am mostly Paleo, I don’t get the ones from grains. However, I still consume hard cheese and cured meat. Mycotoxins are also present in coffees that are Dry processed, decaf coffees, and robusta. This is a red flag for me. Over a year ago, I sourced a premium robusta bean for my espresso blends. My headaches did increase afterward. But I don’t have great data going back that far. Also, I consumed decaf espresso during my detox. And the neighborhood coffee shop that I frequent the most switched to an espresso blend this summer that is all Dry processed. For 2012, I will avoid robusta, and decaf, and minimize my exposure to Dry Processed coffees. On the podcast, Dave advises ordering an Americano when the espresso is Dry Processed, as the steam used can kill the mycotoxins. Since I home roast coffee, I recently ordered nothing but wet-processed coffee, with a heavy bias towards Single Origin Central American coffee, which tends to be the cleanest coffee one can consume.
- Caffeine – The coffee detox I did in 2011 was likely flawed. It probably wasn’t long enough and it didn’t address the caffeine I consumed in tea. My 2012 detox will be 100% caffeine free. No coffee, no decaf, no tea, and no chocolate. It will be longer than 2 weeks. It will be miserable, but I need to know who I am in the complete absence of caffeine or caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
- Nightshades – Another class of foods that may cause headaches are nightshades. I consume very little white potatoes, eggplants, or tomatoes. However, I do get my fair share of peppers in my kimchi. At some point in 2012, I will do a 30-Day Elimination test for nightshades.
I’m going to continue working on my neck stiffness. I’m also going to cut way back on the fermented veggies. I’ve already started reducing my coffee and tea intake. When I do drink tea, I will favor green and lightly oxidized oolong, as they have fewer tannins than darker teas. I stopped making water kefir and I’m going to be on the lookout for any food items containing carob bean gum. And sadly, I have stopped fermenting veggies for the time being.