A study published in the journal BMJ Open suggests diets high in salt may be connected to headache, and this link may be independent of the “well-established link” between salt intake and high blood pressure, which can be a cause of headache.

The study authors, led by Dr. Lawrence Appel, director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research at Johns Hopkins Medicine note that headache is a common medical problem around the world and is one of the most frequently reported nervous system disorders.

Dr. Appel and his colleagues say that current data support a link between blood pressure and headache, while evidence on the link between headaches and sodium intake or other dietary factors is sparse, with most research looking at the role of monosodium glutamate (MSG) consumption.

According to the American Heart Association, 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 organization.

Results from the study showed that people who ate foods high in sodium – around 8g per day – had one third more headaches than those who ate foods low in sodium – around 4g per day. And, the researchers observed that this difference remained whether the volunteers ate a standard Western diet or the DASH diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products with reduced saturated and total fat.

The researchers said, “it is noteworthy that there was no significant relationship between diet pattern and headache. This suggests that a process that is independent of blood pressure may meditate the relationship between sodium and headaches.”

There were limitations in the study however, including lack of information on prevalence of headaches in study participants at baseline

Still, Dr. Appel says their findings suggest that by reducing salt consumption, people might be able to avoid some headaches.

December 2014

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