Don't Be a Sore Head

Quit whining that your head hurts. Everybody's head hurts. Almost every Joe's head throbs at least a few minutes every day, says Merle Diamond, M.D., associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago. "A bit of head pain is normal," she says. "All it means is that you've done something to alter the flow of blood to your brain." This causes blood vessels in the brain to shrink or expand, painfully stretching nerves and triggering the throbbing bursts of pain.

A few headaches are caused by genetically inherited traits that have no known cause, but most of the time you've got no one to blame for the stabbing in your head but you. That's because most headaches are brought on by your own bad habits. To keep your head feeling good, Diamond suggests you:

>> Get more sleep. If you don't want your head to hurt, you may have to give up those 2 a.m. Raymond reruns (you may have to give up prime-time Raymond as well). You'll keep the gray matter from getting tired and inflamed, thereby improving blood flow in the brain.

>> Drink more water. Both during the day and especially before you exercise. This keeps blood flowing through the brain, preventing headache-triggering dehydration—an especially good idea if you want to lose those post-lifting brain cramps.

>> Don't skip meals. When your body runs low on fuel, the way your body burns glucose changes. This causes your blood vessels to expand, adjusting the flow of blood in the brain. Eat every couple of hours, however, and you'll keep the link between brain, blood sugar, and pain under control.

>> Watch out for foods that may make you more susceptible to headache. Caffeine, aged cheese, wine, onions, garlic—all open your arteries and veins, unleashing a tidal wave of headache-inducing blood into the brain.

>> Stop smoking. Carbon dioxide keeps oxygen from reaching the brain, triggering headaches.

>> Eat some sugar with your booze. Try a mixed drink with fruit juice as your first drink of the night, or spread honey on a couple of crackers before hitting the bar. The carbs compete with alcohol to be metabolized first—helping your body process alcohol more effectively (and thereby helping keep you headache-free).

>> Try to keep your anger in check. Really, is dousing your co-worker's cube with lighter fluid and being laid off from work that big a deal? A new Saint Louis University study found that the angrier guys get on a daily basis, the more severe their headaches tend to be. Stay calm and you'll keep that flow of blood in your brain like a class 1 river—smooth and rapids-free.

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