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Excess salt in the diet could cause headaches, study

Posted:  Thursday, December 25, 2014

Are nagging headaches a common feature? It could mean consumption of a diet high in salt. A recent study has found that diets high in salt could be implicated to cause headaches and that this link may be independent of the "well-established link" between salt intake and high blood pressure, a common cause for headaches.

Although multiple studies have linked high blood pressure with headaches, data on the influence of sodium intake and other dietary factors are limited. The researchers published their study findings in the journal BMJ Open.

The researchers randomised 390 study participants to either the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products with reduced saturated and total fat or to a typical Western diet which was the control diet. During the 30-day study period, every participant ate food with 3 sodium levels; high, intermediate and low, during specific periods. At the end of each feeding period, the participants completed questionnaires on the occurrence and severity of headache.

The results showed that participants consuming high sodium foods (around 8g/day) experienced 1/3rd more headaches than those eating foods low in sodium (having around 4g/day). These effects were observed among both the DASH diet and control diet groups. This study thus contradicts the popular belief that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and potassium and low in saturated fats can ease or prevent headaches.

Explaining the results the researchers said, “It is noteworthy that there was no significant relationship between dietary patterns and headaches. This suggests that a process that is independent of blood pressure may mediate the relationship between sodium and headaches.”

The study however had a few limitations. The researchers did not record the prevalence of headaches in the study population at baseline, and the severity and duration of headaches were self reported.

In spite of these limitations, the study is a wake-up call against excess sodium consumption. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), most people in the US consume about 3,400 mg of sodium a day, which is more than twice the 1,500 mg suggested by the organisation. Thus to prevent headaches, all you need to take is just a pinch of salt!

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