Do you know anyone who battles with headaches? You probably do. Headaches are common. As much as 15% of the general population has a problem with severe headaches. And close to 40% of people complain of having some kind of headaches on a fairly regular basis.
While headaches can be a significant nuisance, research is now showing that they are more than just a nuisance. In fact, some research has found that headaches may damage brain cells, which could then theoretically lead to dementia. So, what’s the answer? Does having frequent headaches actually increase the risk of developing dementia? One recent meta-study may help to answer that question.
A meta-study is one in which all of the published studies on a topic are reviewed in order to get to the overall conclusions. It has the advantage that it looks at many studies, not just one. In this meta-study published just last year the authors systematically evaluated all of the studies that looked at the association between headache and dementia. They discovered six studies covering 291,549 men and women with headaches of all kinds.
They found that regularly having headache of any kind was associated with a 24% greater risk of developing any kind of dementia, but not specifically Alzheimer’s. In their words, “Our results indicated that any headache was associated with an increased risk of all-cause dementia.”
Previous studies have identified certain mechanisms within the brain that are thought to overlap with both headache disorders and dementia. Some of them have identified several brain structures associated with pain, including headache pain. For example, the temporal cortex, thalamus, anterior cingulate, amygdalae, and the insula have all been found to change form during the development of a headache. These brain areas are also associated with memory. But, here’s the problem.
Just because headaches are associated with an increased statistical risk for dementia, it doesn’t mean that the headaches are causing dementia. Nevertheless, headaches do serve as a warning that a risk is there. So, if you have headaches on any kind of a regular basis, try some of the remedies below and see if they work. You’ll have to work with a practitioner for these remedies. But, by doing that, you might find the relief you’re looking for and you just might be decreasing your chances of developing dementia.
4 Overlooked Causes and Treatments for Chronic Headaches
Severe cases of chronic headaches can be one of the most difficult problems doctors face. Conventional therapy is limited to medications. But they have side effects and often aren’t all that effective anyway.
Alternative treatments like acupuncture, elimination diets, and herbs can be effective. But they often fail as well. So what can you do if you can’t find a way to successfully deal with your headaches?
Here are three simple and safe ways to prevent and treat severe headaches that have helped me over the years. And if you haven’t tried them, you should. And when all else fails, a new study has discovered a very special treatment that just may be the knockout punch you’re looking for.
One of the most common overlooked causes of both migraine and tension headaches is drugs. The usual culprits include ergot medications like caffergot, antidepressant drugs like Prozac, Wellbutrin, Paxil, etc., codeine, and tranquillizers. But the most common offender is probably in 99% of all American households. It’s caffeine.
According to the Department of Neurology at Meir General Hospital in Israel, “Excessive caffeine consumption, mostly in the form of coffee and tea, is a well-recognized cause of headache or migraine, and withdrawal can cause headache.” And in a study conducted at the University of Vermont, caffeine caused headaches in as much as 49% of the men and women tested. What was even more interesting was that the amount of caffeine intake did not predict who was going to get the headaches. Even modest amounts of caffeine were a problem.
Another really common cause of headaches in women is hormonal imbalance. In young women the imbalance causes headaches every month before menses. In older women, the cause is menopause. A recent study looked at 3,664 women who were either premenopausal, perimenopausal (close to entering into menopause), or in menopause. Only 8% of the premenopausal women had severe headaches compared to 50% more in the perimenopausal and menopausal women.
Women who get regular headaches who are in any of these categories can get rid of the problem by having their hormones balanced. For premenopausal women, this usually means taking the right amount of magnesium and progesterone before their cycle. For the perimenopausal and menopausal groups, it means getting the right balance of bio-identical hormones.
The third cause of migraines is an imbalance in the neurotransmitters or brain chemicals that control the nervous system. Headaches caused by these imbalances are more common in people who have a history of depression. In fact, people who get migraines are more than twice as likely to have major depression as those who don’t. This is why one of the most effective medications for severe headaches are antidepressant drugs. It also explains why headaches are more common in people as they get older. Because as we age many of us develop an imbalance of our neurotransmitters. That’s the bad news.
But the good news is that these neurotransmitter imbalances can be corrected simply by taking the right mix of two critical amino acids – tyrosine and tryptophan (also called 5-HTP). So if you fall into either of these categories, try to find a doctor who knows how to use these aminos.
Warning: Because everyone is so different and because the lab tests for neurotransmitters are useless for this purpose, it might take some time to find the right balance.
The Knockout Punch
But what if you have tried all these treatments and still can’t find relief? Hang on. There is that knockout punch I hinted at previously. Researchers recently looked at a group of five patients with headaches. Now I know that five patients doesn’t sound like much of a study, but these cases were not your average cases.
All of the patients had failed to respond to every treatment available. And the amount of time they had been suffering was from a minimum of 10 to as much as 32 years. The severity of headaches were such that “extensive periods of sick leave had been taken during the year prior.” Over the previous six months, each of the patients had an average of 80 headaches. That’s more than three headaches every week! And the average pain rating of the headaches was 8.7 out of 10. Here’s what happened.
The researchers treated the patients with major-autohemotherapy (MAH) using ozone. This is a procedure that has been used by doctors for over 50 years. It’s a safe and simple process that involves withdrawing some blood, mixing it with ozone, and then re-infusing it back into the body. This was initially done twice a week and, as the headaches became less and less frequent, the researchers decreased the treatment sessions. The average number of MAH treatments each patient had was 27. And the average amount of time each patient was treated was eight months. The patients were followed up for an average of five years. And the results? They were nothing short of incredible.
During the entire follow-up period absolutely no patient missed work because of a headache. And remember that before the MAH treatments the average number of headaches the patients had over six months was 80. Well, during the first six months after ozone therapy, that number had dropped to zero! And these initial amazing results almost persisted for the entire five year follow-up period. Even at the end of five years, the average number of headaches over a six month period was six. And the pain had dropped from an initial 8.7 out of 10 to a remarkable 1.1.
And what about side effects? There were none. In fact, all of the patients reported feeling more energy after the treatment.
So if you’re suffering from severe headaches and nothing is working, find a doctor trained in MAH. The odds are likely that you will see an amazing improvement. You can find doctors trained in ozone therapy at the website for The American Academy of Ozonotherapy, www.aaot.us.
Clavo B, Santana-Rodriguez N, et al. Long-term improvement in refractory headache following ozone therapy. J Altern Complement Med. 2013 May;19(5):453-8.
D’Andrea G, Cevoli S, et al. Biochemistry of primary headaches: role of tyrosine and tryptophan metabolism. Neurol Sci. 2015 May;36 Suppl 1:17-22.
Dowson AJ, Dodick DW, Limmroth V. Medication overuse headache in patients with primary headache disorders: epidemiology, management and pathogenesis. CNS Drugs. 2005;19(6):483-97.
Stewart, Kim. “Researchers Discover the Molecular and Cellular Response for Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” December 17, 2019.
Wang J, Xu W, et al. Headache disorder and the risk of dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. J Headache Pain. 2018 Oct 11;19(1):95.