Lifestyle Modification

Headache Triggers: Dietary, Environmental, Lifestyle, and Hormonal Influences

While lifestyle choices can seem very obvious triggers to migraineurs and offer some of the most effective treatment options, these areas can be difficult to change. Integrative practitioners are in a unique position to identify specific lifestyle triggers and support healthy lifestyle changes in their patients.

Foods: Alcohol, tyramine (in some cheeses and wine), food allergies (dairy, wheat, etc.), caffeine withdrawal, chocolate, MSG, nuts (especially peanuts), pickles, fermented foods, nitrates (preserved meats), dairy products, and onions are among the foods and dietary additives that can trigger headaches.

Environmental triggers: Odors, excessive noise, smoke, and psychological stress have all been shown to be problematic. Relaxation therapy acupuncture, and several supplements discussed in this module has been shown to be beneficial to headache sufferers (2).

Lifestyle choices: Irregular sleep cycles are strong triggers to headaches- good sleep hygiene is a must. Smoking can increase headache frequency. Regular exercise has been shown to decrease headache intensity. 

Hormonal: On occasion, hormonal manipulation for females can be helpful in the treatment of regularly occurring headaches linked to the menstrual cycle. Estradiol topical and natural progesterone cream (1gm of 6% cream) has been shown to reduce symptoms, especially in the last 1-2 weeks of the cycle (12).

Recommended lifestyle modifications:
  • Engage in regular exercise
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and perfume preservatives
  • Keep a headache diary and avoid triggers if they exist
  • Pay strict attention to sleep hygiene
  • Try using daily meditation and stress reduction exercises
  • Consider yoga as a way to get regular exercise and mind-body work
  • Avoid artificial food additives and preservatives