Categorized | Health & Behavior

Is Your Holiday Headache Really A Sugar Hangover?

The unhealthful side-effects of a high-sugar diet are well known. Sugar slows metabolism, suppresses the immune system, disrupts the body’s mineral balance, raises blood triglycerides, produces stomach acid, hosts bacteria in your body and negatively affects mood and attention and concentration.

Sugar can also be the cause of your troubling headaches and migraines. I learned about this connection first-hand, many years ago. To figure out the source of my migraines, I started a food elimination diet, getting rid of dairy, acidic fruits, bananas and all other foods known to produce migraines. While this helped a bit, I’d still get that weekly migraine that made you want to cut off your head. This was before the days of Imitrex and Maxalt, the vasoconstrictor medications that treat migraines.

Overtime, I found the main cause of my migraines was sugar! How could something so sweet be so bad for me, and you? This is the subject of my post today.

Just a couple of decades ago, the medical profession was still attributing recurrent headaches and migraines with unknown medical cause to psychological factors. You were referred quickly for a psychiatric evaluation, if your doctor didn’t have an answer to your problem.  Thank goodness, today, we know that a cigar is simply a cigar, if you know what I mean, and a headache is simply that—a headache.

Baby, it has been a long time coming. Today, the medical profession recognizes food and food allergies as one of the causes of headaches and migraines. The National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that food and ingredients in foods play a part in about 50 percent of migraine headaches. Although the cause of headaches is complex and varies from person to person, sugar consumption is one of the factors that can lead to a headache and migraine.

Sugar, Vascular Function, and Migraines

Eating too much sugar can cause neurological changes that lead to pain. Glucose is the chemical name for blood sugar that comes from the foods you eat. Your arteries carry glucose to the brain along with oxygen to nourish the brain and help you to function. Your sugar levels are kept steady through a number of body processes that protect the integrity of the body’s systems, like the arteries. Your arteries are designed to carry a set amount of glucose to the brain. The liver and pancreas of the endocrine system make sure the arteries can do their job. They monitor blood glucose levels and call for insulin, a blood-sugar hormone, to turn sugar into fat when it exceeds a blood level detrimental to arterial function and your health.

When you eat too much sugar, your liver and pancreas cannot monitor, transform and store blood glucose quickly enough to prevent it from building up in your blood stream. This puts pressure on the body’s arteries.

Think about the diameter of an artery like a garden hose, each can handle only so much pressure going through it. You’d lose control of the garden hose, if there was more water going through it than it could handle, right? This is similar to what happens to our arteries when we force too much glucose through it than it can possibly handle; it cramps up and constricts. A constricted artery also cannot supply the brain with enough oxygen. To stop you from actually stroking, your arteries dilate and expand beyond their normal size.

When the arteries dilate to this extent, you start to feel the brain’s distress through symptoms, like pain, body numbness and tingling, light and noise sensitivity, reduced ability to process information, and hand-and-eye motor dysfunction (clumsiness), amongst a host of other debilitating symptoms that resemble a mini-stroke. Imitrex, Maxalt and other similar migraine medications actually work by helping to bring your arteries back to the right size so you can function normal, once again.

Sugar, Dehydration, and the Common Headache

Eating too much sugar disrupts the body’s mineral balance and turns your blood and body fluids too acid. To prevent this from happening, your body begins to dilute the sugar by pulling water from all of your body parts. The side-effect of this process is body dehydration and inefficient blood flow that causes a headache, fatigue, dry mouth, dizziness, weakness, rapid heartbeat, dry and flushed skin, and muscle cramps (Why Does Sugar Give Me A Headache).

Your body was never meant to process large quantities of sugar. The body’s endocrine system monitors the amount of sugar and fat flowing through the blood stream (triglyceride level), to keep the body running smoothly. If  your sugar level rises above your body’s capacity to neutralize it, your body will start to dump the sugar out into your urine. You need to get medical attention right away, if this happens.

Five Steps To A Headache-Free Holiday

  1. Keep Total Daily Sugar Intake Within Normal Limits: To stay healthy and headache and migraine free, make your total daily sugar intake 10% of your total daily calories. Carbohydrate and sugar values are different. You have to pay attention to the sugar values on food labels. It’s shocking to see how much additional sugar is added to manufactured food products. You are especially risking a headache, when you choose foods that are high in carbohydrates and high in added sugar.  The United States Department of Agriculture (Choose My Plate) and the American Dietetic Association (Eat Right)  recommend that you allow around 100 to 300 calories per day for sugary treats, depending on how many calories you need to fulfill your daily nutritional requirements. To know how many grams of sugar this amounts to per day, you divide the number of calories that you will allow in sugar per day (200, for example) by the number of calories per gram of sugar (4 calories per gram of sugar). In my example, you can have 50 grams of sugar that day.
  2. Limit Sugar Grams Per Treat:  Do not eat your total daily sugar allotment in one sitting. Break up the total grams of sugar that you can eat for the day into three separate snacks, separated by two to three hours in time. This helps to keep blood sugar within normal limits throughout the day and to keep you headache free.
  3. Exercise. Physical activity helps your body to burn up the sugar you eat per day so that it does not get stored as fat. It also helps with blood flow. You still have to keep your daily sugar grams within the limit prescribed in step 1 to lower your risk for a headache or migraine.
  4. Stay Hydrated: Keep your body hydrated. 8-8 oz. glasses of water per day should do it for you, unless you have a greater need because of a rigorous exercise routine or other health concerns.
  5. Stop Eating Sugar 2-3 Hours Before Bedtime: Time of the day that you eat sugar determines how much of it will get burned up through activity. If you eat most of your sugar in the evening, you risk more of a headache or migraine.

Sugar is a type of drug. You have to monitor how much of it you eat, when you decide to eat it, and how it affects your body, mind, and emotions. Don’t let this drug get the best of you. Let my five steps guide your food choices and health habits, so that you have a headache-free holiday season.

If you like my post today, please say so by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows this post. I welcome your thoughts and comments. Warmly, Deborah!

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