7 Reasons Why You Get Horrible Headaches

If you've ever experienced a really bad headache, then you completely understand what it feels like to have to go through appointments, work conversations and spend time with friends or family while suffering.

It's absolutely horrible!

Headaches can cause aching, throbbing and stabbing pain that can all be quite debilitating.

Not all headaches are the same and some of the most common classifications include:

But regardless of what type of headache you have, you may be able to reduce their frequency by identifying what brings them on.

Here's a look at the most common triggers for each of these kinds of headaches.


I know it's easy for everyone to blame their problems on stress.

But the truth is, emotional and physical stress play a strong underlying role in nearly every chronic health condition you can think of.

Seventy-five to 90 percent of primary care visits have been reported to be stress related.

Stress is such a major problem that it's one of the top reasons why people work with me in my Functional Medicine practice.

Stress not only impacts us emotionally, but it causes tight muscles in the shoulders and neck, which is a primary reason behind tension headaches.

Tension headaches start in the muscles. When tension headaches become frequent, the pain in shoulder and neck muscles is felt by the brain as pain in the head.

Stress is also a common trigger for migraines.

Whether your stress is emotional or physical, the amount of cortisol that's released causes a cascade of chemical events that almost certainly triggers migraine headaches.


Contrary to what most people think… it's more likely that we under eat than over eat.

Hunger itself can trigger a migraine or tension headache.

And when it comes down to it, you can be eating a whole lot of food, but that doesn't mean you're nurturing your body.

The United States is one of the most overfed countries in the world, but at the same time, malnourished.

This is because highly processed, industrialized foods provide little to no nutrients.

But eating certain foods may trigger migraines.

It could be just one type of food — like beans or nuts — or many foods, such as avocados, bananas, cheese, chocolate, citrus, herring, dairy products, and onions.

Processed foods with nitrites, nitrates, yellow food dyes, or monosodium glutamate can be especially problematic.

For these reasons, if you're experiencing daily headaches, then I'd suggest a 30 Day Paleo Reset or Elimination diet to see if they go away.

Alcohol Intake

Alcohol is a common cause of migraine and cluster headaches.

For some people, a few ounces of red wine are all it takes to provoke a headache, although any kind of alcohol can be a trigger.

It's not clear if the alcohol itself is to blame or if another component in the drink causes the problem.

Alcohol intolerance is also a sign of liver dysfunctions and nutrient depletion.

So if you find that you always have a headache after drinking some beer or wine, you might have nutritional deficiencies that are causing your problems.


Cluster headaches seem to be seasonal and often happen in the spring or fall.

This suggests that cluster headaches and migraines could be caused by something in the environment, but we can't tell exactly what it is.

Other environmental factors such as bright light, smoke, humidity, intense scents, or cold weather are associated with migraine headaches.


Changes in estrogen levels are associated with migraines in women, and women suffer from migraines more often than men.

Menstrual cycles may be tied to migraine in younger women.

Varying estrogen levels during perimenopause can sometimes start migraines in women who never experienced them before.

Estrogen therapy and birth control may also be a migraine trigger.

Sleep Disturbance

A lack of sleep is associated with migraines and tension headaches.

We don't know why, but we do know there's a correlation and that sleep can lead to pain relief.

Sometimes people just feel better after taking a nap and this is a strong indicator of inadequate sleep.

Spine & Joint Health

Research shows that chiropractic adjustments – one of the primary treatments provided by doctors of chiropractic – may be an effective treatment option for tension headaches and headaches that originate in the neck.

A 2014 report in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics (JMPT) found that interventions commonly used in chiropractic care improved outcomes for the treatment of acute and chronic neck pain and increased benefit was shown in several instances.

Also, a 2011 JMPT study found that chiropractic care, including spinal manipulation, improves migraine and cervicogenic headaches.

What Can You Do?

Understanding your headache triggers can help you avoid getting headaches in the future.

But identifying triggers can be tricky, especially if you have more than one (like several kinds of food).

We recommend keeping a journal to note the day, time, symptoms, and circumstances surrounding your headache (what have you eaten? where did it happen?).

If avoiding triggers isn't enough to keep headaches at bay, then consider getting your spine analyzed by a Doctor of Chiropractic.

While prescription medications are certainly an option, it's one that doesn't come without risk and side effects.

Other pill-free treatments (acupuncture, meditation, biofeedback, relaxation therapy) might also help.