The McDougall Program
Diet and Lifestyle Implications


One common cause of headaches is drugs, such as alcohol and caffeine. The toxic effects of alcohol cause the head to hurt. One version of the condition is commonly known as a "hangover." People who drink coffee and tea may get a headache as a direct result of the drinks, or more commonly, as a result of withdrawal from the caffeine in them. This withdrawal may come at the end of the day or on weekends, when less coffee than usual is drunk. Headaches stop with complete abstinence from any drug (usually within less than 5 days). Don't forget that recreational, doctor-prescribed, and over-the counter drugs can be likely causes of your headaches; even medications apparently as innocent as are birth control pills and cold tablets can provoke headaches.

Foods, I believe, are the most common causes of headaches. Some of these headaches develop as a result of allergic reactions to components in your diet. These components may be as natural as the proteins in your milk or as foreign as the chemical additives that are sprinkled about so liberally by food technologists. Since 1913 migraine headaches have been suspected to be caused by allergic reactions, and many scientific articles have established a definite cause-and-effect relationship between migraines and common foods. Most encouraging is the finding that between 70% and 90% of long-term migraine patients can be freed of their headaches in less than two weeks, once they identify and eliminate the offending foods.

The benefits of a change in diet are not limited only to migraine patients. I usually see complete relief of headaches from an unidentified cause within days after a change in diet. This statement of miraculous benefits does not apply to people who have head and neck pains from known cause, such as injury, tension, infections, cancer, or degenerative arthritis.

Because one common source of headaches is "sinus trouble", we can easily see why dietary change is so beneficial. The membranes lining the sinuses produce mucus, and the tissues become swollen and inflamed as a direct result of allergic reactions to foods consumed or to things breathed into the nose and lungs. Pain is a part of the inflammation process and from the pressure of fluids that accumulate in poorly draining sinuses. The most common foods that provoke sinus trouble are dairy products. I think you're unfortunate if you miss this opportunity to relieve your aching-head by simply eliminating milk, cheese, and ice cream from your diet. But remember that other foods too can be causes source of sinus trouble.

The direction of change most beneficial to sufferers from migraine and unclassified (generalized) headaches is, as you might expect, one toward healthier foods. I find that the most important foods to eliminate are the dairy products (yes, even skimmed milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese). The next most likely culprits are eggs and chocolate, then citrus fruits, corn, and wheat. However, the possibilities for being harmed by offending foods are limitless. Some people must resort to an elimination diet to identify the foods to which they are sensitive. (See ALLERGIC DISEASES for an effective elimination diet.)

Even though we all might prefer taking "the magic pill" and "the quick fix" to changing our diet, that fantasy solution is not available. But for most of you who are suffering from frequent headaches, a true miracle is well within your reach. I would like to hear from any of you who take up my challenge to change your diet and achieve the miracle of restored health.

My Recommendations: First see a qualified specialist to identify any condition that can be corrected by medical treatment. If that doesn't help, then change to a low-fat, non-dairy, starch-based diet; also consider the possibility of being allergic to other kinds of foods. Stop taking alcohol, caffeine, and any other drugs that may be causing your headache (of course, do so with doctor-prescribed drugs too--and sometimes with alcohol and hard drugs--only with proper supervision).