Headache after eating may be a symptom showing you are suffering from reactive hypoglycemia also known as postprandial hypoglycemia . Headaches can be distracting, disruptive, and distressing—especially if you don’t know what causes them.
There are no universal causes of headaches, but a more precise diagnosis can be made by looking at the accompanying signs.
Experiencing a headache after eating food, for instance, often has less to do with the act of eating itself than it does with something in the food aggravating an underlying condition.
If you feel a throbbing headache after eating certain foods, especially something salty or sweet, then chances are you have a medical condition that is causing a headache in reaction.
Causes of Headaches after Eating
The brain is a very precise organ and is highly sensitive to changes in your body as a result. The following are all possible medical conditions capable of causing headaches in response to certain foods:
- Hypertension: High blood pressure is a common condition that many people experience. For those with hypertension or who are prone to high blood pressure in general, eating salty foods can trigger a headache. This is because your kidneys aren’t always able to quickly process the sudden intake of salt, which causes water to be drawn into your bloodstream. More water means more blood volume, and this in turn leads to increased blood pressure. The heightened pressure pushes against the brain, resulting in a headache.
- Diabetes: You have likely heard the term “sugar crash” before. Although colloquially used to refer to the loss of energy following a sugar rush, the term more accurately relates to a condition called hypoglycemia where your brain doesn’t receive enough sugar. This happens when the body’s insulin, which helps process sugar, overreacts and causes sugar levels to plummet rather than manage them. The hypoglycemic shock that diabetics can develop is a more extreme version of the headache that can stem from this effect.
- Migraines: A migraine headache can be a potentially crippling, throbbing sensation that, in some people, is accompanied by nausea and vomiting, light sensitivity, and dizziness. It is not fully understood what causes migraines, but some migraine sufferers have found that specific foods like citrus, liver, chocolate, or buttermilk can be triggers.
- Gastric reflux: When you eat spicy or fried food, the production of stomach acid temporarily increases. In some cases, the acid is capable of seeping upwards through the esophagus. This causes a collection of symptoms known as acid reflux and can consist of headaches, heartburn, chest pain, or coughing fits.
- Food allergy: In some people, their immune systems have a fierce reaction to certain foods. The body will release histamines in response to eating the food, which can cause a host of reactions ranging from hives, headaches, or cramps to life-threatening conditions like anaphylactic shock.
Home Remedies to Stop Headaches after Eating
The most natural way to stop headaches that occur after eating is to identify the “trigger” food and try to reduce or eliminate it from your diet. Look at what you are eating when a headache occurs and try repeating the meal with different elements or ingredients removed, or try the suspected trigger directly and see what happens.
For some people, the headache trigger is something they are able to avoid, like citrus. For others, they are not so fortunate if their reaction is to a common ingredient, such as sugar or salt. If you are not able to avoid the headache-causing foods, here are some home remedies that can help relieve your headaches:
- Massage: The greater occipital nerve is located on the back of your head near the base of the skull. Migraines have been known to be eased if the nerve is massaged. For headaches caused by pressure in the brain, a general massage can help even out or redistribute the pressure to reduce pain.
- Meditation, yoga, or relaxation: If eating certain foods causes a headache from high blood pressure, then techniques that are known to lower your blood pressure can help counteract the effect. Meditation, yoga, and relaxation methods ranging from a nap to listening to calm music can all be natural ways to ease the pain from a headache.
- Cold compress: The lining of the brain is called the dura and it is fed by an artery located in your temple. Migraines and other forms of headaches aggravate the dura and can cause inflammation. By applying a cold compress to your temple, you can chill the artery and slow the blood flow to the dura in order to get some measure of relief. Generally speaking, if your headache is throbbing or “pulsing,” that usually means it is related to blood flow or pressure in some way.
- Aspirin: It may be a medication, but aspirin has proven effective in improving blood flow and helping to ease headaches. The key element is salicylic acid, an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving agent found in willow bark that people have been aware of and using for centuries.
- Lavender: Wafting lavender oil has had mixed anecdotal results for treating headaches. While some people report experiencing relief from headaches, others claim the scent brings them on instead. Still, it is worth trying. Keep in mind that lavender oil is for inhalation only—do not ingest it.
When to See a Doctor
In most cases, a headache is an annoying but overall harmless symptom. There are certain cases, however, where a headache or migraine becomes severe enough to warrant a doctor’s consultation. Even if you think you know the cause of your headache, a severe occurrence still requires getting checked out to make sure there is no underlying issue that you have missed. If over-the-counter drugs don’t provide relief, or if the pain is enough to disrupt your normal activities, schedule an appointment with your physician.
In addition, seek emergency aid or call 911 immediately if a sudden and severe headache occurs that is accompanied by any of the following: confusion, stiff neck, trouble speaking, high fever, fainting, weakness/numbness, nausea/vomiting unrelated to a hangover, or vision changes. These are all signs of serious underlying conditions that require prompt treatment.
- Waking up With Headaches: Causes and Treatments for Morning Headaches
- Natural Cures for Headaches and Migraines
“13 Surprising Ways to Fight Headache Pain,” Health web site; http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,20538298,00.html, last accessed July 22, 2015.