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Killer Headaches and Central Sensitization

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Killer Headaches and Central Sensitization

There are a number of things, countless things that can cause headaches in those with central sensitization. From loud sounds, to bright lights, to strong smells.

But this post isn’t about the more obvious causes of headaches. Nope, this post is about the killer headaches (you know, the ones where bashing your head in with a sledge hammer sounds less painful of an option then to keep enduring the pain) brought on by neurotransmitter dysregulation.

In this case, well be focusing just on headaches, not migraines (for migraines just reverse the advice). These are not your everyday tension headaches brought on by inflamed and tight muscles which will respond to heat or cold. Nope, heat and cold wont touch it, massage wont touch it, vibration wont touch it, crawling into a deep dark hole doesn’t help, and for some unknown reason to you screaming at the top of your lungs almost helps.

What in the hell is it and how can I stop the pain RIGHT NOW?

There are 4 main neurotransmitters that may be the catalyst to your headache from hell, and it’s due to having too much of one of these neurotransmitters that is causing a process called vasoconstriction.

Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of the blood vessels resulting from contraction of the muscular wall of the vessels, in particular the large arteries and small arterioles. The process is the opposite of vasodilation, the widening of blood vessels. – Wikipedia.

It’s the tightening of the blood vessels that you feel, the twisting, tearing, cramping, grinding feeling that makes you want to crack open your scull and deeply massage your brain.

Too vivid of imagery?

So, who are the culprits, and how can you counteract this nightmare in less than 15 minutes?

  • Epinephrine
  • Norepinephrine
  • Serotonin
  • Acetylcholine

So if you take an SNRI (e.g. Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), Duloxetine (Cymbalta), Levomilnacipran (Fetzima), Milnacipran (Ixel, Savella), Tofenacin (Elamol, Tofacine), Venlafaxine (Effexor), SSRI’s, stimulants, choline supplements, tyrosine supplements, green tea or green tea supplements, etc., these may be your culprit.

However, there are a LARGE amount of medications and supplements that increase these neurotransmitters. So show yourself your Google-Fu and start researching your medications and supplements online to see if you can find the one causing the vasoconstriction.

To make things even tougher, there are also a LOT of foods that can increase these neurotransmitter too. But, unless you’re eating them in bulk, they may not be your culprit. These foods can include for example caffeinated food and drink, salty snacks and meals, refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, and foods loaded with sugar.

Coffee, tea, citrus fruits, bananas, chocolate, cocoa and vanilla can raise epinephrine levels. Eggs, cheese, pineapple, tofu, salmon, nuts, seeds, and turkey can raise serotonin levels. Meats, dairy, poultry, fish chocolate, peanut butter, brussels sprouts, and broccoli contain a lot of choline. However, once again, this is not an exhaustive list. Get your Google-Fu on and get in the know about your diet.

When you do identify the culprit, it’s best to reduce it in your diet, or stop taking that supplement. However, this may not always be an option, so your best bet is to counteract it with an equally potent vasodilator.

Taking a vasodilator during a killer headache will counteract your vasoconstriction-induced headache with in 15 minutes, if not in seconds. You should notice some relief in under a minute, unless you haven’t ingested enough of a vasodilator. Give it five minutes at a time, and keep upping your intake until the headache is much, much better. Depending on how long and how bad the killer headache was, it may take some time for all of the pain to go away, because all that clenching and crying probably aggravated more than just your vessels.

So, what vasodilators can you take? Any supplements or foods that increase GABA are your best bet. Increases in dopamine and glutamate could knock that headache out, but they could also make it worse depending on various factors including dosage. But, if you have them, use them.

Relief from Killer Headaches

GABA supplements are your best bet over all. You can often get them from grocery stores and local pharmacies. eBay is also an option, as well as Amazon. But that’s all fine a good unless you’re having a killer headache right now, right?

Well, there are foods that can help in the vasodilation process, but some could have a bad effect, some can have no effect, and some will knock that killer headache right out of the ball park. The problem is, everyone is different and different foods may have both vasodilators AND vasoconstrictors in them.

Foods to try if you have them in the house right now:

  • apples
  • oolong tea
  • cherry tomatoes
  • shrimp
  • spinach
  • leaf lettuce
  • beets
  • broccoli
  • spinach
  • kale
  • dark chocolate
  • red meat
  • chicken
  • fish
  • cheese
  • milk
  • eggs
  • almonds
  • walnuts
  • cashews

Again, GABA supplements are your best bet in the long run, but if you need relief right away, try some of the above food options.

Last Resort

If you don’t have any of these foods in the house, or the ones you have just aren’t working for you, try deep breathing. You’ll specifically need to sit in a relaxed position and deep breath in through your nose and out through your nose. This is because carbon dioxide is a potent vasodilator and it relaxes blood vessels. Breathing in and out of you nose prevents you from breathing off too much of your carbon dioxide.

Good luck! 🙂


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