Mark Gilbert's Blog

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My headaches are now driving me to drink

For the first three weeks in October, I conducted an experiment – on myself.  I’ve suspected for a while that at least a contributing factor for my daily headaches was not drinking enough throughout the day.  There had been days where I got so busy at work that I went the entire workday drinking only 8oz.  By the time I got home on those days, my headache was raging.

My original experiment was to start on October 2, and look something like this:

  • Week 1: Establish baseline for liquid consumption and record headache-pain
  • Week 2: Increase liquid consumption by 50% of baseline
  • Week 3: Increase liquid consumption by 100% of baseline

For several days leading up to the start of Week 1, I took no Excedrin.  I wanted to get that completely out of my system, so it wouldn’t interfere.  I also vowed to not take it during the three weeks, for the same reason (as I’ll discuss towards the end, I broke that rule once).

I decided to follow my previous self-survey template, and recorded these two data points every 15 minutes (or as close to it as I could manage).  I thought about reworking iSelfSurvey to record just these two points, but that would require a fair amount of work (for starters, I would have to get Android Studio reloaded on my computer), and I just didn’t have the time at the end of September to do that.  So, I went went low-tech.  I created 21 custom PocketMods to record the time, my headache pain rating, and the amount of liquid (in ounces) I had consumed since the last reading:

10

Each evening, I would transfer the data to a spreadsheet so I could run the analysis.  I think the results were pretty clear:

20

The days I averaged only 56oz, my average daily headache was 5.7.  When I increased that amount to 50% more (which worked out to about 84oz of liquid per day), my average daily pain level dropped more than a full point to 4.5.  In fact, the effect was so pronounced that I modified Week 3 to merely be a duplicate of Week 2 (mostly to demonstrate Week 2 hadn’t been a fluke).

This is a breakthrough. 

I don’t normally notice myself getting thirsty during the day, but apparently I was – and have been for years.  In fact, for the first few days of Week 2, I learned to start drinking immediately after taking a reading, just so I would remember to drink more!

Since the end of Week 3, I’ve kept up my regimen of drinking 84+ ounces a day, and my headache has pretty consistently stayed lower.  I’m chalking that up as a win.

***

I mentioned at the beginning that I vowed I wouldn’t take Excedrin during this experiment, because I didn’t want it tainting the numbers.  At the end of Week 2, I woke up Sunday morning with an extremely nasty headache.  The baseline pain was a 6 (out of 10), but then periodically I would get a sharp stabbing pain behind my right ear, pushing my the pain up to an 8 or a 9.  I had been doing great all week – what happened?  The day before I had consumed over 100oz of liquid, so it’s not like I fell back into old habits on that front.

Oh – the chicken.  We had take out fried chicken the night before for dinner – something that I know is crazy high in sodium: 2 chicken strips, a regular side of potato wedges and a biscuit come to 2,470mg of sodium – more in one meal than I’m supposed to be getting in the entire day.  CJ has reported getting headaches pretty consistently after eating that meal in the past (especially if we had the leftovers the second night).  Perhaps sodium – or more correctly, too much sodium – is another trigger?  I’ve never tracked how much sodium I consume in a given day.  I wonder what would happen if I decreased that?

And THAT will become my next experiment.  Stay tuned.

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October 27, 2017 - Posted by | Science

3 Comments

  1. […] Check out my latest technical blog post, My headaches are now driving me to drink. […]

    Pingback by My headaches are now driving me to drink – Mark Of Quality | October 27, 2017

  2. Sodium and potassium are antagonists, so if you think sodium might be a problem, you might look into increasing your potassium intake. Most produce Has a lot (not just bananas) and soup or smoothies would also help your water intake.

    Comment by Emily | October 27, 2017

    • Thanks Emily!

      Comment by markegilbert | October 27, 2017


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