Why Does Sugar Give Me a Headache?

Why Does Sugar Give Me a Headache?

Does eating sugar give you a headache? You are not alone.

The sugar headache, otherwise known as the Holiday Headache (because we eat so much sugar on Easter, Halloween, Christmas and other holidays) has a lot in common with a hangover but it strikes any time we overdose on sugar.

Headache

While most of us have experienced a sugar headache at some time in their lives it is not well-known in medical circles. It might even surprise you to learn that the exact causes of all headaches are a bit of a mystery. Scientists have discovered that both migraines and cluster headaches change blood flow in the brain,  but exactly how blood flow changes create a headache is unknown. The same is true of the sugar headache.

I view the sugar headache as a toxicity or dehydration event and while it might be an annoyance, it could also be the sign of something more dangerous. Let’s look at dehydration and toxicity and see how they might cause a headache.

Sugar Dehydration

Dehydration is a common way to get a headache and sugar can lead to dehydration. Eating too much sugar pulls water out of your body in two ways.

  • Dilution: When you eat too much sugar, your body has to dilute that sugar to keep it from harming your body. This means that water is pulled from all parts of your body to balance the large amount of sugar in your blood stream. While this water-pulling effect happens all over the body, it is your head that suffers the most.
  • Urination: One of the ways that your body has of getting rid of excess sugar is to dump it in your urine. This is especially true of diabetics, who have to go to the bathroom a lot.

Toxicity

The other way to think about sugar is to consider it a toxic event.

While your body runs on glucose (a simple sugar) it was never meant to have a ton of simple sugars running around in your blood. If you look to nature, you would find that there are almost no foods that contain the high amount of sugar you would find in any soda or piece of cake. If natural foods do contain a high amount of sugar it is often bound up and hard to get to (like in a sugar cane). The only way to get a large amount of sugar into your body is to have that sugar processed before you put it in your mouth.

Processed sugar and processed grains both act like sugar in your body and this is toxic to the very blood cells that carry the sugar throughout the body. (I explain this at length in my book Sugarettes).

Something Worse?

Sugar headaches can also be a warning. If you get sugar headaches often, you might just be diabetic or pre-diabetic. The best way to find out if you are diabetic is to go and see your doctor and have them run some blood tests, but here are the typical symptoms of diabetes:

  • Excessive urination: As I mentioned above, sugar acts like a diuretic and will spill sugar and water into the urine. Having to urinate a lot is often one of the first signs of diabetes.
  • Excessive thirst: Since diabetics are losing a lot of water (see above), they are often thirsty all the time.
  • Excessive hunger: Everyone has periods of time when they are hungry, but diabetics are hungry all the time (with strong cravings for carbohydrates, sweets and sugar). This is one of the strange things about diabetics: They have a lot of sugar in their bodies, but it is not being used by the cells so they are hungry all the time.

Sugar Headache

The reasons why sugar gives you a headache are many and not readily understood, but you don’t have to wait for a reason to stop the pain in your head.

You can stop your sugar headaches and give sugar the boot by trying my 30 Sugar Free Days Program. During the program, you will learn about foods that act like sugar and what you can do about your cravings. Make sure you understand that sugar is doing more harm to your body than just giving you a sugar headache, take this opportunity to learn from your headache that you shouldn’t be putting large amounts of sugar in your mouth and you need to make a change.

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About the Author

I'm Dr. Scott Olson ND. I'm a Naturopathic doctor who specializes in diet, health, nutrition, and alternative medicine. I've written numerous books and articles on health, medicine, and alternative medicine I want to help you get healthy! Take a look at my blog and make sure you join in the conversation!

74 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Kwenny April 22, 2014 at 4:12 am - Reply

    1 teaspoon of sugar gives me headaches, that includes soda, sweets, chocolate, cookies, iced water. What could it be the problem? I’m only 27 years old and overweigh. I do exercise but won’t loose weigh and that discourage me a lot.

    • Dr. Scott April 22, 2014 at 7:52 am - Reply

      Kwenny,

      Some people are extremely sensitive to sugars and it sounds like you are one of them. Try the 30 Sugar Free Days Program and see how you feel. Most people feel much better.

      Dr. Scott

  2. Denise April 17, 2014 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    Dr. Scott,

    I do not drink sodas, or a lot of sugary juices or drinks. On occasion, (maybe every 3wks) I will eat a few cookies or a dessert but I am not really into sweets like chocolate candy or ice cream etc.. When I decide to have a glass of lemonade or Iced tea I usually use a teaspoon of sugar. I have been tested for diabetes but the doctor said right now it is not a problem but could become one in 5 or 6 years, if I am not careful. I am almost 60 and starting to get headaches more frequently as soon as I drink something with sugar in it. Do you think this is a diabetic sign or something else? I appreciate any information you can give me.

    • Dr. Scott April 18, 2014 at 11:29 am - Reply

      The symptoms of headache are caused by the sugar and are independent of whether you will get diabetes or not. I would say that since your doctor brought it up, it is a good idea to reduce sugar as much as you can right now. Diabetes is one of the most preventable diseases on the planet; you have to reduce the amount of sugars and foods that act like sugars in your diet.

      Dr. Scott

  3. August April 16, 2014 at 10:38 am - Reply

    Hi,
    I often experience tight headaches or hot/sweat sensations (usually from my neck up-specifically in the back of my head.) when I believe I have consumed 2 much sugar. Like a cup of coffee in the morning I have to use about 4 packets of sugar. My body usually feels like it needs to be flushed and I often counteract the feeling with drinking plenty of fluids. Is it possible that my sugar intake could be causing these symptoms?

    • Dr. Scott April 18, 2014 at 11:27 am - Reply

      It is more likely coming form the coffee than the sugar. What it sounds like is that the coffee is causing your body to release stress hormones and that is causing the flush. It is possible from sugar, just more likely from coffee.

      Dr. Scott

  4. Patty March 23, 2014 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    Dr. Scott,

    My 10 year old gets severe headaches several times a week. We’ve had her eyes checked. I am thinking of taking her off gluten for a while and seeing if that helps. Then someone suggested sugars too. Do you recommend taking her off all of the suspects like sugar, gluten, dairy at the same time, or one at a time? How long should the trial last?

    • Dr. Scott March 25, 2014 at 10:54 am - Reply

      Hi Patty,

      While it is very difficult to do with a 10-year-old, I would recommend removing everything you think might be a problem. Check out the Allergy Elimination Diet for help on common allergens.

      Try taking her off those foods for two weeks, if the headaches haven’t gone away in two weeks then food is not the problem (and you need to investigate the headaches with a specialist – push your doctor to have more tests done). If the headaches do go away, then slowly introduce one food at a time, wait a few days, and then introduce another. This way you will find out what the triggers are.

      Best of luck,

      Dr. Scott

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