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Solutions for Chronic Headaches

In a previous post, we looked at some stretches and other physical measures that can be used to alleviate pain associated with tension-type headaches. In this post, we'll cover what can be done on the dietary front to address a common root cause of headaches.

The vast majority of chronic, recurrent headaches - including tension headaches and migraines - are partly due to a build-up of toxins within your nervous system.

Some of these toxins come from everyday metabolic activities - as your cells go about the daily grind of producing energy to fuel your activities, they generate waste products that can have toxic effects on your tissues before they are eliminated from your body.

Other toxins come from digesting the foods that you eat, particularly protein-rich animal foods. Breakdown of protein-rich animal foods generates large quantities of nitrogenous waste products which can come into contact with your nervous system before being eliminated from your body.

The idea is this: when your nervous system is burdened by a steady stream of toxins for an extended period of time, it can become hypersensitive to all types of stimuli such as strong fragrances, loud noises, bright lights, and everyday stimulants found in food and drinks like sugar, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, and MSG. Tension and migraine headaches are often precipitated by an overburdened nervous system that is reacting to one or more such stimuli.

Other common stimuli that can trigger headaches include prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, a change in the weather, and menstruation.

So in understanding that headaches can be caused by a hypersensitive nervous system that is the result of high toxic load, when looking to address chronic headaches with what you eat, the goal is to follow a clean diet that is relatively free of hard-to-digest foods.

A clean diet means minimally processed fare that is abundant in fresh plant foods and low in protein-rich animal foods.

Here are some specific guidelines on following a clean diet that can dramatically decrease and even eliminate chronic headaches:

  1. Eat mainly fresh vegetables (raw and/or cooked), fresh fruits, vegetable soups, and whole grains.

  2. For more protein-dense foods, focus on eating large quantities of dark green vegetables and small quantities (no more than 2 ounces per serving) of lentils, legumes, unsalted nuts, unsalted seeds, organic eggs, and cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, and anchovies.

  3. Strive to avoid flesh meats (other than small quantities of fish once you are better), dairy, and products that contain yeast.

I have found that best results are usually obtained by eating just fruits (mainly fresh melons), vegetables, and whole grains for an initial cleansing period. Lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, and fish are best added in small quantities once there has been substantial improvement in headache intensity and frequency.

Don't forget to chew your foods thoroughly and to strive to be at rest physically and emotionally while you eat - these measures can facilitate optimal digestion, thereby decreasing your exposure to endogenous toxins that can arise from putrefaction of incompletely digested foods in your gut.

Following a clean diet for a few weeks to a few months should decrease your exposure to toxins and give your nervous system a chance to return to a healthier tone, also known as a better balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions of your autonomic nervous system, which should in turn, lead to less headaches.

Beyond decreasing toxic load to address chronic headaches, it's often immensely helpful to decrease or even eliminate intake of the following stimulants that are known to trigger painful headaches:

  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

  • Aspartame

  • Nitrates (found in highly processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, and cold cuts

  • Alcohol

  • Sugary foods and drinks

Please keep in mind that during the first while of following a clean diet, it's quite possible to experience more frequent and/or intense headaches. The same holds true if you skip a meal or if you sleep longer than usual. The reason for this is that any time you give your body more rest - which is provided by a clean diet, eating less, and getting extra physical rest - your body accelerates the pace at which it stirs up and eliminates toxins. Though intense detoxification may be difficult to tolerate, if you stay the course with a clean diet, within a few days to a few weeks, you should feel significantly better for the long term, provided that you continue to live and eat healthfully.

Please also keep in mind that chronic headaches can be caused by specific health challenges such as meningitis, high blood pressure, head injuries, sinusitis, seasonal or food allergies, and even brain tumors. Though the nutritional measures discussed in this post are generally health-supporting and potentially helpful in any circumstance, it's always wise to be evaluated by a competent physician to make sure that there are no underlying conditions that are causing chronic headaches.

To bring this post to a close, here's a sample menu of clean meals that can be enjoyed when looking to overcome chronic headaches:


  • Fresh melons, grapes, lettuce, and celery
  • Bowl of oatmeal
  • Smoothie made with fresh melons and grapes and any whole food fruit and vegetable powders that you use


  • Large green salad with extra-virgin olive oil

  • Steamed vegetables with guacamole
  • Steamed baked potato or sweet potato


  • Green salad with extra-virgin olive oil
  • Steamed corn on the cob, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower
  • Whole grain dish (brown rice, millet, or quinoa are good choices) with guacamole
  • Pasta with tomato sauce


  • Fresh mangoes, apples, pears, berries, melons, grapes, coconut
  • Chestnuts
  • Baked sweet potato slices

To learn more about how your body stirs up and eliminates toxins, view:

Is Fasting One Day a Week Good for Your Health?

To learn more about how to experience full body cleansing on an everyday basis, view:

Full Body Cleanse - A Five Part Series on Cleansing and Detoxification

For recipes from our full body cleanse program, view:

Full Body Cleanse Recipes


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First of all let me say your site and information is probably one of the most unbiased accumulation of very good advice and products than any out there. I'm a registered nurse and a student at Clayton College of Natural Health for holistic nutrition with an emphasis on herbal healing. I'm also a certified aromatherapist and fanatic about all things natural and/or organic. My question is one that plaques me. I am mostly raw vegan with some lapses into an occasional piece of meat (which I end up not enjoying anyway!), but I very much enjoy the things I can do with plain, nonfat, organic yogurt that I make myself. Is yogurt in the same group as other dairy products? I can make the yogurt out of soy or cow milk - or I suppose I could use almond milk (just thought of that!). I am lactose intolerant but have learned that lactose is converted to lactic acid when made into yogurt. I probably have a high toxic burden due to symptoms and have only been on this journey of raw since May 2008. I have a website and a newsletter where I really want to disseminate the most accurate and helpful information to my customers and friends and this is one issue for which I have not found the answer.
Thank you!

Hi Ann,
How do you go about making low-fat dairy products? I have learned about the problems of eating low-fat dairy that has been processed. It is not a good thing when the sugar to fat ratio increases because of the stress it puts on the pancreas. These products are also stripped of valuable nutrients such as zinc b-vitamins and cancer fighting sphingolipids and CLA. I don't eat very much dairy, but when I do, I go with organic and whole fat.

I live with a woman who has suffered terribly from migraine headaches. I don't believe for one minute your diet for headaches will work. On a trip to PEI a few years back I noticed a pattern of headaches as they occurred. Headache in AM on rising, no headache after breakfast. As the day wore on headache returned, at such a time she reached for her supply of capragot (unsure of spelling) a suppository which did relieve her pain. To make this short our two week trip was a near disaster because of her headaches. As I have always been interested in alternative health meathods I said to her one day before we got home, "You are hypoglycemic. You need to eat like a diabetic" I also suspected she suffered from rebound migraines from the capragot medication. When she got home it took a lot of persuasion but her doctor finally had her tested. She was severely reactive glycemic. This is what she did. She weaned herself of capragot. She ate three to five small meals a day. The emphasis was on a more high protein diet. Today she knows if she wakes up with a headache it is usually caused by how she failed to eat the previous evening. All it take is a two egg breakfast and within an hour the headache is gone. I would suggest that if you suffer from migraines (remember some of these are medication induced rebound migraines) EAT. Two eggs in the morning any style. regular snacks but no sugar or whites for the next meals. A good beef or chicken protein meal at supper (pork does not work) Fish is ok but is iffy for results. Chile is a great pick me up and relieves headaches very quickly. Eggs is the best for relief.

I often see posters who have had a specific experience that helped them, and they think this is a cure for everyone. I'm glad that your friend is doing better but I would think that weening off of the medication did more for her than anything. Improving her diet habits only improved her situation, more so. I don't see any support for the accusation that his diet will not work, even in reference to your friend. As Mr. Kim stated:

"For more protein-dense foods, focus on eating large quantities of dark green vegetables and small quantities (no more than 2 ounces per serving) of lentils, legumes, unsalted nuts, unsalted seeds, organic eggs, and cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, and anchovies."

Organic Eggs are listed. Not everyone with a chronic headache condition is reactive glycemic, but most everyone can improve with diet modification focusing on nutrient dense foods like vegetables and legumes. I may disagree with melons (high glycemic) and whole grains (gluten, phytates, acidic, increased insulin) but everyone has different needs as an individual. Mr. Kim's list is a good start.

M a g n e s i u m chloride or teeny bit of epsom salts in a glass of water
or chewing a sprig of celery or a pinch of celery salt in water
-my headaches,exacerbated by motorcycle&car mishaps,
have gone away with the use of mg& deep tissue massage

Hey Ben, first of all great articles and great info over all from every aspect of your site. I have been following your work for a long time now and always soak as much as I can from your research. I would just like to ask Denis if he is confused? it seems like you agree with the notion that food can in deed heal the head aches but are resistant to Dr. Kim's meal recommendations. Am I correct in this assumption? I just don't understand how you can say that you don't believe for one minute that the diet for headaches will work but then go on to illustrate how your wife's diet has been affecting her head aches. Maybe your wife is getting headaches from your contradictory attitude towards candid and relavant information. I am not an expert but you may want to look into the possibility.

Dr. Ben's article was only concerning chronic headaches and not once did he mention migraines. Although he didn't differentiate the two, his advice was only his recommendation and may work for others, like me. Additionally, he stresses most of the time to check with your own family doctor, as he or she know your medical history.