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Chuck, I’m one of the 20 million or so Americans who suffer from migraine headaches. I appreciated your articles on how certain foods and vitamins can help naturally treat and prevent them. But what about minerals? – Steve K., Billings, Mont.
In Part 1, I answered a reader’s question by discussing what foods we can eat and eliminate from our diet to help us naturally prevent and treat headaches.
In Part 2, I answered another reader’s question by discussing what vitamins play a natural role in relieving headaches, as well.
In this installment, I will discuss the role certain minerals can have in helping to treat and prevent headaches.
According to Dr. Alan M. Rapoport, assistant clinical professor of neurology at the Yale University School of Medicine and co-founder and director of The New England Center for Headache, people who suffer from chronic migraines often have low levels of the mineral magnesium in their brain cells.
That is why Joy Bauer, author of “Food Cures,” explained that “some studies have found that magnesium supplements are effective for headache prevention. The recommended dose is 400 milligrams daily. Magnesium is available as a single supplement or in widely available combination migraine supplements that also contain riboflavin and feverfew.”
Magnesium is a major mineral. It has hundreds of functions in the body, including helping convert carbohydrates, protein and fats to energy, regulating blood pressure and heart rhythm, keeping blood vessels healthy, preventing spasms in coronary arteries, working closely with calcium in the health of bones and teeth and helping the proper functioning of nerves and muscles, including relaxing the muscles after contraction. Hence, one can see the potential benefits it has for treating and preventing headaches.
Magnesium can be found in pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseed, brown rice, legumes, chocolate, spinach, Swiss chard, artichoke hearts and whole grains.
However, the University of California, Berkeley’s “Wellness Foods A to Z” notes that about 80 percent of magnesium in grains is found in bran and germ, which are removed in the milling of white rice and white flour. And unlike the vitamin riboflavin, magnesium is not required to be replaced in the enrichment process. Therefore, enriched grain products – including pasta, white bread and white rice – are not good sources of magnesium.
Iron is the other mineral touted to reduce headaches. Being iron-deficient leads to anemia, meaning the body doesn’t get enough oxygen. To compensate, the body dilates blood vessels to allow more blood flow.
Rapoport explains, “This dilation compresses the nerves in the walls of the vessels, causing head pain.”
Because the recommended daily allowance is only 18 milligrams for women up to age 50, 8 milligrams for women 51 or older and 8 milligrams for adult men, most people easily acquire the necessary amount of iron without supplements. However, according to the experts at Berkeley, supplements may be needed for menstruating women, pregnant women, dieters (especially women), endurance athletes (particularly women and vegetarians), strict vegetarians and vegans, and infants and children.
Seek professional advice first, as excessive amounts of iron can result in toxicity and even death. Some studies have shown that intake of iron via supplements can reduce blood flow dilation by up to one-third.
There are two types of iron found in foods: heme and nonheme. Heme iron comes from hemoglobin, protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen to cells. Heme iron is found in animal foods, such as beef, chicken liver, lamb, pork, oysters, tuna, halibut, shrimp, crab, chicken and turkey.
Nonheme iron is found in plant foods, such as kidney beans, lima beans, black beans, pinto beans, tofu, soybeans, lentils, black-eyed peas, fruits, vegetables and grains.
Nonheme iron is more easily absorbed by the body than heme iron and is also the form of iron added to iron-fortified and iron-enriched foods, such as fortified cereals, oatmeal and breads.
As always, consult with your physician or health practitioner before changing your diet or altering your physical activity.
(I thought I was only going to have three parts to this series on naturally preventing headaches, but I discovered some new studies that show how certain exercises and herbs can help, as well, which will be in the final installment next week.)
For a more holistic medical approach, my wife, Gena, and I recommend Sierra Integrative Medical Center in Reno, Nev. The people there are pioneers in integrative medicine. They blend the best of conventional medicine with the best alternative therapies.