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Most of us have experienced a headache at one time or another. For most of us, they happen every once in a while, and they don’t last long.
But 45 million Americans experience chronic daily headaches (CDH), defined as headaches that occur more than 15 days out of a month for three months or more. They can range in intensity from unpleasant pressure to severe pain and last for hours to days at a time.
Researchers are still working to pinpoint exactly what causes CDH. Most of the factors they’ve singled out so far are related to the brain in some way. They include stroke, a brain infection like meningitis, inflammation of the blood vessels in and around the brain, abnormal pressure inside the skull, brain tumor and traumatic brain injury.
But recently, researchers have identified another potential cause that doesn’t involve the brain at all….
The connection between GERD and headaches
According to research, between 30 and 50 percent of people with chronic headache also suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition occurs when the sphincter muscle at the bottom of the esophagus doesn’t close properly, allowing stomach acid to flow back up the esophagus and cause heartburn and regurgitation.
It also appears that many people with GERD also experience chronic headaches. A study of 3,600 GERD sufferers in southern Iran found 16 percent had daily headaches and 26 percent had headaches once or twice a week. They concluded from these results that there was a significant correlation between the headaches and the GERD symptoms.
While the exact cause is still being investigated, scientists believe the link between headaches and GERD can be explained by the gut-brain axis, a biochemical signaling pathway between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system.
The gut-brain axis is extremely sensitive and can be disrupted by any disturbances in the brain or gut. This could be why a condition like GERD can contribute to headaches, and why headaches can also set off gastrointestinal problems like GERD.
Stopping headaches by treating GERD
A 2016 review of 900 articles on headache and gastrointestinal issues concluded that the link between headaches and gastrointestinal problems like GERD, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease was often overlooked. The researchers noted that headaches may be cured or relieved when the sufferer’s gastrointestinal condition is brought under control.
So, if you’re someone who suffers from both headaches and GERD, managing your gastrointestinal condition may bring you some relief.
There are medications you can take for GERD, but they’re not risk-free. Research has shown many acid reflux drugs can increase stroke risk by as much as 94 percent.
Luckily, data from the Nurses’ study that included almost 43,000 women, aged 42 to 62, who were questioned about GERD or heartburn symptoms from 2005 to 2017, concluded that five diet and lifestyle guidelines can greatly reduce gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms.
It includes avoiding foods that may trigger GERD, like alcohol, coffee, tea and spicy or acidic foods. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it helps to eat foods that have a higher pH because they are more alkaline and can offset stomach acid. Foods like:
They also suggest high fiber foods to help curb overeating, a contributor to GERD:
- Whole grains such as oatmeal, couscous and brown rice.
- Root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots and beets.
- Green vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli and green beans.
Author Dr. Andria Schmedthorst also has tips for alkalizing your diet for peak health.
You should also be aware that some specific medications can trigger your GERD. If you find that happens with any, talk to your doctor before stopping them.
Editor’s note: Did you know that when you take your body from acid to alkaline you can boost your energy, lose weight, soothe digestion, avoid illness and achieve wellness? Click here to discover The Alkaline Secret to Ultimate Vitality and revive your life today!
How to Tell if You Have Chronic Headaches — Everyday Health
Correlation of gastroesophageal reflux disease with positive family history and headache in Shiraz city, Southern Iran — The Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology
Chronic daily headaches — Mayo Clinic
Gastrointestinal Headache; a Narrative Review — Emergency (Tehran)
Why Acid Reflux Headaches Happen and What You Can Do — Verywell Health
How Exercising Can Relieve Your Acid Reflux — Digestive Health Services