Two-thirds of men and more than 80 percent of women suffer from headaches. And for an unlucky one in 20, headaches may occur nearly every day.[i] You’re probably all too aware of the common headache triggers, such as stress, not getting enough sleep, drinking too much alcohol (especially red wine) or skipping a meal, but some reasons for headaches may surprise you.
9 Headache Causes You Probably Haven’t Heard Of
9. Aged Cheeses
A slice of cheddar on your sandwich, or blue cheese crumbled on your salad could actually leave your head pounding, as aged cheeses are high in tyramine, which is formed when protein from certain foods is broken down. Not everyone is sensitive to tyramine, but if you are, you may experience headaches after eating the following high-tyramine chesses:[ii]
- Blue cheese
- Processed Cheese
And it’s not only cheese that’s high in tyramine. Other foods to watch out for include:
- Certain beans
- Canned soups
- Red wine
- Processed meats … and these are risky for another reason as well … see below.
8. Processed Meats
Lunch meat, hot dogs, sausages and other heavily processed meats often contain nitrites, and these preservatives often cause headaches, likely because they increase blood flow to your brain. So in addition to being high in tyramine, processed meats often contain nitrites, making them a double-whammy for headaches.
7. Ice Cream
You’ve certainly had an “ice cream headache” at some point, the stabbing, headache pain that usually goes away within minutes. For 90 percent of migraine sufferers, however, eating cold foods like ice cream or drinking cold beverages can trigger not only an ice cream headache, but also often prompts a serious migraine to begin.
When you exercise, your body releases natural painkillers called endorphins, which can actually help relieve many types of pain. However, strenuous exercise like running or weight lifting can also trigger headaches, possibly because it dilates blood vessels inside your skull. Exercise headaches are more common in hot, humid weather, as well as at high altitudes, and exercising in these conditions should be avoided if you’re prone to exercise headaches.
5. Poor Posture
Slumping in front of your computer isn’t only a risk factor for back pain, the hunching of your shoulders also strains your neck and face, and can even lead to pinched nerves, and this can lead to headache pain.
4. Hot Weather
When the temperature rises, so does your likelihood of headache pain. In fact, one study found that for each 9-degree F rise in temperature, your risk of severe headache or migraine rises by 7.5 percent.[iii] If you notice your headaches peak when the weather is warmer, try to stay indoors in an air-conditioned location.
Just as you can overexert yourself during exercise and trigger a headache, you can overexert yourself during sex with the same result. Sex is a form of exercise, after all, and resulting headaches can range from a dull ache to a sudden, pounding headache.
Ever heard of “let-down” headaches? These occur when stress hormones like cortisol suddenly drop after a stressful period, a transition that releases neurotransmitters that cause your blood vessels to dilate and actually release chemicals that can trigger headaches. The weekend, when you’re finally able to breathe a sigh of relief from your weekday stressors, is a prime time for a “let down” headache to occur.
1. Headache Medication
Ironically, the frequent use of pain medications for headaches can alter pain pathways and receptors in your brain, triggering rebound headaches. The only solution is to minimize or stop use of the headache medication, but as the medication wears off, that’s when the rebound headaches begin, often prompting people to take even more medication — a vicious cycle.
Generally speaking, if you take headache medication more than twice a week, you should talk to your health care professional about the potential for rebound headaches and what to do to prevent them from occurring.
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