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Cut Back on Salt to Decrease Headaches

Individuals who struggle with headaches may want to bypass the salt shaker.

A study published last month in the journal BMJ Open shows diets high in salty foods are a major culprit in headaches and that reducing salt brings relief.

Nearly 400 people participated in the study, and those who ate foods high in sodium (8 grams a day, or about 1.5 tsp.) had nearly one-third more headaches than people who ate foods low in sodium (about 4 grams a day). The highest occurrence of headache was reported by participants eating a typical North American with high sodium (47%), and the lowest occurrence was reported by participants on the DASH diet with low sodium (36%). The DASH diet, which many know as a diet to help control blood pressure, is low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables.

Regardless of which diets the participants followed, researchers found that those who ate the most sodium reported the highest frequency of headaches, and those who ate the least sodium reported the least amount of headaches.

“A reduced sodium intake was associated with a significantly lower risk of headache, while dietary patterns had no effect on the risk of headaches in adults,” said Lawrence Appel, MD, MPH, of John Hopkins University. “Reduced dietary sodium intake offers a novel approach to prevent headaches.”

While high blood pressure is often associated with high salt intake and headache, the researchers found that people with normal blood pressure had fewer headaches when they reduced salt intake. They noted that a process that is independent of blood pressure may mediate the relationship between sodium and headaches.

The researchers added that the data on the relationship between sodium intake and any form of headaches are sparse, and more study is needed to replicate their findings and further explore the link between sodium intake and headache.

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