Can Sugar Cause Headaches?

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does sugar cause headaches

If you tend to stay up-to-date with the latest nutrition and health recommendations, you most likely know that most western countries have a major problem with sugar consumption. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day for women and nine teaspoons (38 grams) for men, but the average American consumes about 19.5 teaspoons (82 grams) every single day. That is more than three times the recommended amount for women and more than double the recommended amount for men.

Consuming too much added sugar can lead to increases in blood pressure, blood lipids, inflammation, insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes, and, ultimately, being overweight or obese, both of which lead to a series of other health problems.

There is no doubt that the over-consumption of sugar can lead to a series of health problems in the long-term, but for those who suffer from chronic pain and headaches, you might be wondering if there is a connection between sugar consumption and headaches.

First, a little introduction to headaches in general.

Headaches: What Causes Them?

There are over 100 different types of headaches, but some of the most common include:

  • Tension headaches: These are some of the most common types of headaches, and, as the name indicates, they are due to any sort of stress or tension a person might be experiencing. They usually go away when the source of the tension disappears.
  • Migraines: Migraines are intense headaches that can last several hours. They are often accompanied by a feeling of pounding or throbbing pain, as well as sensitivity to light, noise, smells, or nausea among others.
  • Cluster headaches: The pain that defines cluster headaches is a burning or pinching feeling, usually concentrated behind an eye. They can last from 15 minutes to three hours, and can cause redness, eye drooping or reduced pupil size.
  • Sinus headaches: These headaches often cause pain in the cheekbones and forehead, and can feel like they come from a source deep within the face.
  • Hormone headaches: People who experience drastic hormone changes can feel headaches as their body tries to adjust. This can be due to periods, pregnancy, menopause, insulin resistance and more.

Migraine Headache Relief
Migraine Headache Relief

The pain itself can be caused by signals that come from the brain, the blood vessels and the nerves in your head, but researchers and medical doctors aren’t exactly sure what triggers it.

The Connection Between Diet and Headaches

While there are many ways in which the food we eat can cause headaches, when it comes to sugar, there are two distinct conditions that can lead to headaches.

The first is low blood glucose, which is known as hypoglycemia if the condition is chronic. Glucose is your body’s preferred source of energy. If you don’t have a dependable source of energy, your body goes into a sort of “panic mode,” where headaches are an alarm for the need to eat, and are often accompanied by nausea, yawning, pallor, sweating, mood changes and/or a craving for high-sugar foods.

The opposite condition – hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar – can also be a cause for headaches. Sugar and high-sugar foods cause your blood sugar to fluctuate, resulting in a fluctuation in hormone levels (namely insulin, glucagon, epinephrine and norepinephrine), which often constricts the blood vessels in the brain, causing headaches.

In other words, if you consume sugar uncontrollably, or are already sensitive to changes in blood sugar, you may be more prone to having headaches and migraines.

Conclusion

If you feel as though consuming sugar could be causing your headaches, it is that there is a connection between what you eat and the appearance of pain. If you’re unsure, try keeping a food journal, tracking not only what you eat, but also how it makes you feel. This can help you to pinpoint specific food sensitivities.

Reducing sugar consumption has a range of other benefits for your heath, so, accompanied by a nutritionist, you can consider slowly removing sugar from your diet to see if you notice a reduction in headaches.

Sugar Infographic

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Sasha deBeausset is a Nutritional Anthropologist with a B.A. from Tufts University, an M.Sc. in Food and Nutrition from the University of San Carlos, and is currently in the process of becoming a licensed nutritionist. She has been awarded for her academic writing and research, and she has been blogging on food, health, and nutrition for over five years. Sasha is passionate about contributing to making quality and research-based information available freely on the web so people can inform themselves and make better decisions for their health.

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