Q: My 10 year old son comes home from school every day with a terrible headache. The doctor says there’s nothing to worry about, that a lot of children get headaches, and I should just give him Tylenol. Is this really normal? It’s so hard for me to watch him suffer helplessly. Is there anything I can do to rid him of his headaches?
A: Sick is the new “normal”. While your son is in good company, many headaches are preventable by taking a few simple measures. While doctors may recommend making lifestyle changes, this usually only includes stress reduction (an uncommon cause of headaches in children) and leaves out the most obvious culprit: food! Before taking any drastic measures, try eliminating the following headache-triggering foods and see if your child improves.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a food additive that is notorious for causing headaches (in addition to triggering ADHD and other acute and chronic neurological problems). If you have headaches (actually if you a pulse) eliminate all MSG from your diet. Beware of MSG hidden on food labels under lesser known names like: autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable or soy protein, and even “natural flavors”!
Artificial sweeteners commonly found in sodas and chewing gum and other “sugar free” sweet foods have a similarly disastrous effect, causing headaches and other neurological problems. Artificial flavors, colors and preservatives (like sulfites and nitrates) are another common headache trigger. So in essence it is best to avoid all food additives.
If removing the above additives does not bring about complete headache resolution consider removing gluten, a sensitivity that affects a smaller minority of children.
Q: I am trying to eliminate foods with MSG, but it is so difficult! We will have to eliminate all my kids’ favorite snacks! Also, they give these foods out at school, where I have no authority!
A: A mother recently brought her son in to my clinic to treat for help with her son’s tics, which are like tiny seizures. The boy also suffered from near-daily headaches. After inquiring about his diet, I told the mother to eliminate all MSG, artificial sweeteners and other additives immediately, as these substances have a track record for causing neurological problems.
Like many mothers before her, she told me that such a task would prove too difficult. I then shared the following analogy with her: If a child had a deadly peanut allergy, there would be no question about strict adherence to a peanut-free diet. Both the parent and the school will do everything in their power to keep the child away from the offending nut.
Sensitivities to additives like MSG are a very common. Though the reaction may not be as immediate or severe as anaphylaxis, unbeknownst to many, these additives can cause devastating physical, cognitive and neurological problems in both children and adults. There is good reason to treat MSG sensitivity as seriously as you would a peanut allergy. A child, who is old enough to understand its effects, will usually cooperate fully. Include him on shopping trips and have him read food labels to get him involved in improving and taking responsibility for his own health.
Yael Tusk, M.Sc. is a general practitioner of Chinese Medicine at The Center for Natural Health in Jerusalem. She has been treating
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both adults and children for over a decade while conducting medical research on the side. She also teaches a variety of courses, including hypnosis for child-birth, and health self-help.