How Hydration and Minerals Can Help Cure Headaches
You head out for a day of hiking. It’s only 70 degrees outside, and the sun is peeking out from behind the clouds. You fill your canteen only partway, because why carry all that extra weight with you? It’s not that hot. You’re not going to sweat that much. You’ll take it easy, and enjoy a nice leisurely stroll through the woods and drive home.
An hour into your hike, you feel it—that small throb in your temple.
Maybe it won’t be a big deal. If you just keep walking, take that last sip from your canteen, and ignore it, you’ll be all right.
Nope. Ten minutes later, the migraine explodes with full intensity, and you are in agony. You’re more than an hour away from your car, and you have to trek all the way back in blinding pain. Great. Another headache from dehydration, and you’re only going to be sweating more by the time you get back home.
If you are prone to migraines spurred by dehydration, this story should be all too familiar. You have probably experienced this situation hundreds of times over the course of your life. You think you are doing enough to stay hydrated, but it takes almost no loss of water for the headache to set in. And when it does, it can be pretty tough to beat.
The most annoying part is that if you know someone who doesn’t suffer from migraines, they may be able to get along with a lot less water than you.
Trust me, I can relate to this—I have dealt with dehydration-induced headaches since I was a small child.
The Science is There: Dehydration Is Definitely a Migraine Trigger
In case you are wondering, no, we aren’t the only ones with this problem.
This study reports that headache from water-deprivation is common and readily recognized by members of the public, but that the medical community has not given it enough attention.
Researchers in this study have found even more evidence to back that up: “The data of the present study suggest a reduction in the total number of hours and intensity of headache episodes after increased water intake.”
In short, dehydration can trigger migraines, and drinking more water can reduce both the severity and duration of headaches.
Why Does Dehydration Cause Headaches?
There are two main factors to talk about here: glutamate and inflammation. Both are migraine triggers. Read more about glutamate and its connection to migraines here.
Glutamate in your brain increases when you are dehydrated. This alone can cause a migraine.
To top it off, there is histamine. Histamine is released in your body when you are dehydrated in order to stimulate thirst. This results in inflammation—so that is another change in your body which can trigger a migraine.
And that isn’t all! You need to stay hydrated in order to flush toxic compounds out of your body—many of which are also triggers for migraines. So that is a third way in which dehydration can trigger a headache.
So logically you can see why you need to stay hydrated in order to prevent a migraine or cure one. And you also now can see why you are in such agony when you fail to drink enough water. Dehydration is like a triple attack. You are literally stacking up migraine triggers.
But Water Isn’t All You Need … You Also Need Minerals
It is important to realize something else about dehydration. It isn’t just H20 which your body is short on when you are dehydrated; you also have a mineral deficit, and that is another thing which can trigger migraines.
You need salt and magnesium in order to regulate calcium, serotonin, cellular hydration, and glutamate levels.
This is why magnesium is regularly prescribed to migraine sufferers.
It is also why salt tablets are popular for people who get heat-induced migraines. Salt tablets help to replenish the salt in your body, and you are required to drink a glass of water with each. So that forces you to hydrate yourself at the same time.
Salt supplementation works. Here is the proof.
The best salt supplements contain sodium in conjunction with the other electrolytes your body needs to keep going strong: potassium, magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D.
So if you do spend a lot of time working out or you are outdoors in the hot sun for long periods of time, you may want to invest in a bottle of salt tablets. They will go a long way toward preventing migraines and soothing headaches when you get them.
I also suggest you carry and drink more water than you think you need if you tend to consistently undershoot.
I’m talking from personal experience with this. Literally some of my earliest childhood memories are of crippling migraines. Bizarrely enough, it seemed to take years before any adults noticed I wasn’t drinking a lot of water.
To be honest, there is a somewhat embarrassing reason I tend to forget to hydrate myself—and that is that I have a slightly overactive bladder. It’s no fun running to the bathroom all the time, and it can be hard to deal with on trips or at work. When I was a kid, it was a problem for me at school. Of course, I didn’t tell anyone about the problem, because what good would it have done? I simply skipped drinking water all day.
The result were massive headaches most afternoons.
Eventually I figured it out and started drinking more water. I hated outdoor activities throughout my childhood and teen years because I always got a headache after half an hour outside in the sun, but as an adult, I decided to move to a national park for a few months.
It was a scary decision because I was going to spend a ton of time outdoors seeing the sights, but I made a decision to drink a ridiculous amount of water (what felt to me like a ridiculous amount at any rate).
I took a full thermos of ice water with me out every day, and usually went through it one or two times over the course of a day—and that was without a lot of actual hiking. I had to stop and use the bathroom all the time, but you know what? I was practically headache free, and it was so worth it to finally experience the great outdoors.
Food Helps Too
Now, coming back to the discussion about minerals, there is something else I want to point out—food is a great way to reduce headaches connected to dehydration.
There was something I noticed from childhood on, but most people didn’t seem to understand for whatever reason, and that was that those dehydration headaches didn’t necessarily go away if someone gave me a glass of water.
The headache would persist until I got to eat dinner—or at the very least a snack of some kind.
This is because I wasn’t replenishing my electrolytes adequately.
Again, salt tabs and other supplements can help with this, but there really is no replacement for dietary nutrition.
If you are suffering from a dehydration-related headache, eat something! Fruits and vegetables are excellent choices since they are packed with minerals. Fruit or vegetable juices can work too, but just make sure you are going with an organic variety. A lot of GMO crops are not as nutritious.
Just as you should carry a thermos of water around with you if you dehydrate easily, you also should consider carrying a snack with you if you are going out for a few hours. Just bring an apple or a banana or some celery sticks. Anything nutritious can help.
You may also want to be mindful of the dangers of processed foods. Processed foods may actually deplete your electrolytes, not restore them.
Conclusion: Dehydration-Induced Migraines Can Be Treated and Prevented—But You Have to Be Diligent
If you are like me and you suffer from dehydration-related headaches, you know that all it takes is slight dehydration to induce hours of agony.
You may feel like you are helpless to prevent it, but you aren’t—you just have to be ridiculously diligent about the measures you take.
That may mean drinking more water than you want to, or remembering to bring a healthy snack with you when you head to the office or go out on a hike.
It may also mean more trips to the bathroom than you’d like.
But once you get your dehydration-induced migraines under control, you will discover it is totally worth it. You won’t mind those extra bathroom trips nearly as much as you might think. It is just so great not to be in anguish and to be able to enjoy the activities that other people do.
While you are at it, consider taking a supplement for migraines and also looking for ways to cut back on any other triggers you might have. Many people with migraines actually suffer from multiple triggers, and dehydration is only one of them. Tackle your migraines on multiple fronts and you will do an effective job managing and reducing your pain!