Mark Gilbert's Blog

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Pumping iron to keep the headache at bay

Back in October 2017 I ran an experiment where I determined that not staying hydrated throughout the day aggravated my headache.  This past month, I tested another couple of variables.  Just as before, for the several days leading up to the beginning of Week 1, I stopped taking all Excedrin, and didn’t take it at all during the experiment so it wouldn’t interfere with my results.

Week 1 – Establishing Baseline
I tracked my headache for this first week, striving for a pain reading every 15 minutes.  My scale runs from 0-10, where 0 is no headache at all, and 10 is "curled up in a ball, whimpering".

Week 2 – Windows Nightlight Mode
For the second week, I switched Windows Nightlight Mode on, to cut down on the amount of blue light I was seeing on my monitors during the evenings.  I configured it to be enabled on my laptop and my phone from 7:30 until midnight.  Since I am very frequently on my computer until just before I go to bed, I was curious to see if the blue light from my screens was contributing to my headache at all.

As it turns out, I felt no perceivable difference in my headache pain with Nightlight on or off.


After Week 2, I turned this mode off.

Week 3 – Iron Supplements
A friend of mine mentioned that an iron deficiency can contribute/cause headaches.  I did a bit of research into that angle, and sure enough, there are ample references to the link between these two (for example, see this article or this article).  So, for Week 3, I started taking a daily iron supplement.

The results here were much more interesting. 


On average, I saw a 0.4 drop in my headache rating when I was on the iron supplement (compared to Week 1’s baseline).

Week 4 – Blood pressure
On more than one occasion, I’ve noticed that bending over to tie my shoes, or doing something very strenuous aggravates my headache.  I began to wonder if there was a correlation between my blood pressure and my headaches.  I had an automatic home blood pressure monitor, so during Week 4 I intended to record my blood pressure alongside my headaches, and see if there was a relationship.

Unfortunately, I stopped this part of the way through the week, for two reasons.  First, I was getting consistently higher readings for my blood pressure than any of the times I’ve had it measured by a professional.  I wondered if a) I was either not placing the cuff on my arm correctly (too high/too low on the arm, too tight around it, etc.), or b) the machine needed to be recalibrated.

Second, and more seriously, I didn’t want to take readings every 15 minutes because it would have driven my co-workers nuts.  So, I tried taking a couple of readings in the mornings before I went to work and a couple in the evenings after I got home.  I was initially concerned that only getting 3-4 readings a day wouldn’t be enough to really determined correlation.  That thought continued to nag me until I decided to stop the experiment.  Perhaps I’ll revisit this later.

So, to date, I’ve found that the following aggravate my headaches:

  • Not staying sufficiently hydrated throughout the day
  • Too much sodium
  • Not enough iron in my diet

That’s progress.

March 1, 2020 Posted by | Science | Comments Off on Pumping iron to keep the headache at bay