Headaches and food allergies

I saw a person today who had headaches–the terrible, pounding ones that take over the whole top of your head like a killer skullcap. The headaches started suddenly, on December 23rd, and all his doctors thought that either his high blood pressure was out of control, or he might even have a brain tumor. He had had seasonal allergies and even sleep apnea before, but never the headaches. His blood pressure was checked and it was normal. His MRI was done and it was normal. They suggested a spinal tap next, and rather than do that just as a “fishing expedition”, a friend brought him to our office.

Testing for allergies

We tested him for reactions to foods, additives, dyes, chemicals and the “usual suspects” like trees, grass, dust and molds. He was highly reactive to all dairy products, and to gluten. His two highest reactions were to cheese–and wouldn’t you know it, that has been his “go-to” snack for a long time.

So he is on his way home to get rid of all the dairy (cheese, milk, cream, ice cream, etc.) and gluten (bread, other baked goods, pasta, breading, “food starch”, etc.) from his diet. OK, no cheeseburgers, but how about steak, roast, chicken or fish with a big salad or grilled veggies and a baked potato? Doesn’t sound too bad.

But then, the question is, why wasn’t he getting headaches all along? That’s one of the characteristics of delayed-type allergies. It’s not that your throat closes up and you go to the ER. It’s a long, smoldering, irritating, inflammatory process that happens in your body over time, and can “cross the line” all of a sudden into a new symptom.

Remember, our friend with the headaches had already had some allergies, and some evidence of swelling in his head (the sleep apnea.) And he had eaten more than the usual amount of wheat and dairy in the three holiday weeks beginning with Thanksgiving.


What happens when delayed-type allergies give you headaches is this: your body makes antibodies to the food you are reacting to, and the combination of the food and the antibody makes an irritating “antigen-antibody complex” that can cause inflammation anywhere in your body and cause:

  • headaches
  • chronic sinus congestion
  • joint and muscle pain
  • fibromyalgia
  • “irritable bowel syndrome”
  • ADD
  • asthma
  • eczema or psoriasis

The symptoms are different with each individual, and even though the allergen is food, the main symptoms may not be digestive. We have had people whose main symptoms are as unusual as insomnia, or dry and swollen eyes.

If you have chronic inflammation or pain, and suspect that foods might be a “player” be sure to get tested. We have had 9 years of experience with a non-invasive and highly accurate form of biometric testing that is computer based. Other centers may use ELISA testing, which requires a blood test.

Getting away from the foods that cause these chronic health problems has fabulous rewards. I just got a call from a young man who had psoriasis (those big, round, scaly looking skin sores that make everyone wonder if it’s contagious, and want to avoid you) whose skin completely cleared up on his allergen free diet. He said “You’ve changed my life, and you’ve changed my children’s lives.” What a happy ending!! And he’s bringing in an out-of-town relative next month.

Dr Martha Howard

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