Why Does Sugar Trigger My Migraines?


Have you ever experienced pounding pain in your head after eating your favorite ice cream? That mint chocolate chip tasted so good in the moment, but an hour later you find yourself on the couch, hunched over in debilitating pain.

It’s not guilt-driven pain you feel from indulging in your nighttime treat, but it is a literal throbbing in your head. It’s not natural. Others don’t experience this. And you wish it would just go away.

Let me see if I can help. Let’s first figure out why you feel this pain, and then we’ll talk about how you can fix the problem.

Your body needs a certain amount of sugar to operate, and when you consume sugar it causes your blood glucose levels to fluctuate. Your brain needs a consistent flow of glucose, and when it doesn’t receive enough or gets too much, it responds negatively. This negative response triggers a headache or migraine.

If your blood sugar is too high, you have a medical condition called Hyperglycemia. Your body is unable to break down glucose with insulin, so your blood sugar rises to 180-200 mg/dL.

Symptoms that occur with hyperglycemia include frequent need to urinate, extreme thirst, blurry vision, or fatigue.

If your body doesn’t receive enough sugar, or not the right kind of sugar, you have a medical condition called Hypoglycemia. Your blood sugar will dip below 70 mg/dL. You can experience hypoglycemia if you skip meals or only eat simple sugars, such as white sugar.

Symptoms that accompany hypoglycemia include lightheadedness, weakness, pale skin, hunger, anxiety, dizziness, or sweating.

Hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia both cause headaches and migraines. Patients who have experienced either condition become afraid to eat food, or they abstain from food, worried that whatever they end up doing will bring on a headache.

I want to dispel your fear.

There are a few, simple steps you can take toward lowering your risk of getting hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. You can take a wary eye off of food, because there is a solution.

1. Maintain a steady meal plan

Eating irregularly or binge-eating at particular meals is not a good way to manage your headaches. You want to make sure you are getting the correct amount of nutrients throughout the day. Make a plan to eat three, full meals a day, and if you are hungry between meals, eat healthy snacks full of protein. Good snack options are: nuts, vegetables, eggs, yogurt, apples, or peanut butter.

2. Eat healthy

Focus on rounding out your diet so it includes the recommended amounts of carbohydrates, protein, dairy, grains, and sugar needed daily. Keep a food journal to hold you accountable. You don’t have to write down every single food you eat, but be generally aware of what you are putting into your body. Eat high-sugar foods in small amounts and infrequently and cut down on your caffeine intake.

3. Exercise

This is always the dreaded one, is it not? Well, I am going to say it again: exercise. The sugar you eat is fueled into energy, and your body loves to use that energy! Do your body and brain a favor, and go for a short run, go swimming, ride a bike, or take a walk. Exercise will help maintain your blood glucose levels and make you stronger.

4. Hydrate

Drink your water. And drink some more. Water replenishes your entire body: it lubricates your organs, it increases your blood flow, and it helps your body get rid of toxins quickly. Water is often the best way to prevent headaches from coming on, especially after eating sugar.

When you walk away after reading this post, I don’t want you to swear off sugar for the rest of your life. No, what would bring me great joy is to see you continue eating sugar, but with a healthy and conscious mindset. Keep track of the when and how much.

So, don’t throw out your mint chocolate chip ice cream just yet. Start with something manageable: pay attention to the signals your body is sending you and follow the four steps above.

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