Kids, Headaches, and the Diet Connection

Is your child's headache due to diet?

Kids Headaches and the Diet Connection

Up to 70 percent of children in school will suffer from a headache during the school year. One in four will suffer from recurrent headaches and 10 percent of those children will end up having migraines. Migraines can debilitate both boys and girls and most commonly begin before the age of 12. The most common types of headaches in children are illness or injury related, tension type, cluster, and migraine.

Children can outgrow these types of headaches and research suggests that they will improve over time and usually before the child reaches the age of 22. How seriously the headaches are managed on the part of the parent, the child, and physician taking care of the child is most important. Learning to identify triggers that may jump start the headaches is the most valuable tool you and your child have.

Common Headache Triggers

Triggers come in many shapes and sizes. The most common migraine triggers are the child’s diet, their sleep habits, hydration, stressors, activity levels, lack of food intake, other health concerns the child may already have, computer screens, and environmental triggers. The first thing that you should try to do is prevent a headache before it starts. Because headaches are triggered by so many different variables you want to begin a headache diary for your child. The key to understanding the headaches will be to learn how to interrupt the cycle.

To start, first begin to examine your child’s diet. Keep track of everything that he or she is eating on a daily basis. Common food triggers include:

  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) which can be found in a number of foods including soups, pizza, Asian foods and chips
  • Caffeine, which is found in soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks, and hot chocolate
  • Dairy products like aged cheese (tyramine), yogurt, and sour cream
  • Meats that are processed with nitrates such as hot dogs, sausages, and smoked meats
  • Fruits like banana, citrus, and avocado
  • Chocolate or foods made with chocolate
  • Artificial sweeteners, including Nutrasweet, Splenda, and Truvia

When it comes to diet the most important things to remember are to eat as healthy as possible with limited processed foods, keep sugar intake low, eat regularly without skipping meals, include healthy kid’s snacks throughout the day, and drink plenty of water.

While writing in the headache diary, keep track of environmental triggers, too. Write down what time the headache started, how long it lasted, and if your child is getting them more and more often, if they are more intense, or if they happen when they do specific things. Write down any other symptoms during the headache, such as balance problems or nausea.

Environmental triggers that can potentially aggravate a headache include the following:

  • Stress
  • Menstruation
  • Skipping meals
  • Too little or too much sleep
  • Changes in weather
  • Traveling

Help Your Child Prevent Headaches

So what can you do as a parent to help with the prevention of your child’s headaches as it relates to nutrition? As noted above, make sure they are journaling as much as possible about what they are eating, drinking, and what kind of activities or stressors they encounter during the day. Make sure your child is drinking 64-80 ounces of water each day and limiting soda and other caffeinated beverages.  Make sure that your child is eating a balanced diet with fresh whole fruits and vegetables with at least five servings between the two groups daily. Avoid excessive sugar or processed and refined foods. Eat very regularly and do not skip meals. You can try to limit or avoid gluten to see if there is a gluten sensitivity since this may be causing headaches or poor sleep. It is also possible that the migraines are being caused by a nutritional deficiency, dietary allergen, or environmental stressor.

One additional step you can take is to test for a vitamin and mineral deficiency. The most common testing would be for vitamin B2, vitamin B-12, magnesium, CoQ10, and vitamin D.

Headaches in children could be genetic and lifelong and chances are if a family member has headaches then your child may also suffer from them too. It will take time to put the puzzle pieces together and make sure you find the right medical provider to help you and your family through the journey.

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