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 can strike at 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!

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

  1. Dennis December 9, 2014 at 10:15 am - Reply

    Dr. Scott and others,
    I’m now 46 years old and since I was around 18 I have not been able to consume much processed sugar. If someone offers me a store made anything with frosting, like a cupcake or piece of birthday cake I have to scrape as much of the frosting off as I can, and I still end up with my body response.
    Today is Dec 9th and this weekend we put of the Holiday tree and I made Ginger Bread Cookies with and for our son – 5 years old. We don’t have lots of cookies and things other families do… and our son thinks overly sweet things are yucky :-) … until recently he’s started public Kindergarten and seem to all the sudden asking for sweet things more regularly. We provide it but continue to teach him MODERATION… offering fruits and such.
    Anyway back to the reason why… me. Sometimes I’ll “spurge” but know I’ll pay for it. Today it was just ONE Ginger Bread Cookie with next to no icing face and 1 hour later – WHAM… headache, TMJ / Neck / Shoulder muscular tension… I get full body muscular tension, become highly irritable and feel like my teeth are trying to climb out of my face… my symptoms vary based on quantity consumed. I always have a level of muscular tension because it’s so hard to avoid. I’m wondering if my eczema and feeling like arthritis (what I believe to be arthritis – a constant dull ache in my finger joints) is starting on the same hand are linked.
    I’ve dealt with this for so long as just a matter of life and really wanting to get to understand what is going on and how best to eliminate this from my life… I feel like a freak at social gathers and in dealing with other parents… I life a very low sugar life already… can I really be that sensitive… are there any treatments?

    • Dr. Scott December 9, 2014 at 11:26 am - Reply

      Dennis,

      There are no treatments except avoidance. You may have sensitivities to the grains in what you are eating as well, look out for that. The best way is to remove all sugars and foods that act like sugars and then slowly introduce them again and see if you headaches return. It is not fun, but it is what works the best.

      Best of luck,

      Dr. Scott

  2. Marlene Bolton November 9, 2014 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    i have headaches ALL the time..some days better than others..but lately I like my sweets.And after my sweets my head really hurts..but cluster headaches run in the family…I don’t know..why I have them and really don’t want them..getting my hormones in check..thought that was it didn’t have headaches for 44 amazing days..but they came back…

  3. Toni Lewis November 3, 2014 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    By far the BEST info I’ve found yet about the connection between sugar and headaches. Question. I don’t have a Facebook account, nor do I want one. Is there any other way to join your 30 day program? I am especially interested in knowing what foods to avoid and the worst and best times to eat these foods. I am Type 2 diabetic, by the way.

  4. Toni Lewis November 3, 2014 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    SO glad I found this! I am experiencing this right now as I type. I’m Type 2 and I notice every single time I eat something sweet after an extended period of time, this happens to me Dr. Scott and NO DOCTOR I’d visit would agree there is such a thing. Thank you so much for sharing :-)

    Tonitia

    • Dr. Scott November 4, 2014 at 11:13 am - Reply

      Thanks for your comments Toni!

      Dr. Scott

  5. Toni Lewis November 3, 2014 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Somehow I stumbled across your site and I am simply amazed by the “common sense” you share for us “common folk” out here meaning I had always thought there was such a thing as this, but no doctor would ever agree with me. I thought I was crazy! I’m glad God let me find you. Only thing (and I never understood why) that works for me is a nap! :-)

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