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High Salt Intake Linked to Headaches

High Salt Intake Linked to Headaches

Headaches (including migraines) are a common health issue, affecting approximately one-fifth of Americans.1Several dietary factors are known to trigger headaches, including alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, cheese, nuts, citrus fruits, processed meats, artificial sweeteners, and fatty foods.2 However, salt is rarely mentioned as a potential trigger, and there has been little or no research on sodium intake and headaches published until recently.

Salt intake in our modern food environment is unnaturally high; the average daily sodium intake worldwide is 3,950 mg (3,600 mg in the U.S.), far above the American Heart Association’s guideline of 1,500 mg/day and the World Health Organization guideline of 2,000 mg/day. It has been estimated that 15 percent of all deaths from cardiovascular disease are due to excess salt intake.3-6 Processed foods, fast foods, and restaurant foods are notoriously high in salt, and increasingly, these sources are where people’s meals come from. In addition to cardiovascular disease, high-salt diets are implicated in bone loss, stomach cancer, autoimmune disease, and possibly headaches, too.

Researchers analyzed data on headaches from the DASH-Sodium trial, which tested the effects of two different dietary patterns, each with three levels of sodium, on blood pressure. The control diet was a typical American diet, and the experimental diet was the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The DASH diet limits fats, red meat, and sweets, is focused on vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy, and also includes whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts. Within each diet, there were three different levels of sodium: 7

Levels of sodium








Overall, the risk of headache in participants assigned to the DASH diet was not any lower than that of those on the control diet. However, when low, intermediate, and high sodium intake within each diet were compared, low sodium intake was associated with a reduced risk of headaches. Compared to the control diet with high sodium, the DASH diet with low sodium was associated with a 36 percent reduction in headaches.8

Is it because a high-salt diet could elevate blood pressure? The researchers aren’t sure. It is unclear whether elevated blood pressure provokes headaches; reports on the relationship between blood pressure and headaches are inconsistent.9-13 Regardless, this study suggests that reducing dietary salt is an important part of a dietary plan to fend off headaches and provides another reason to limit added salt in the diet.

Whether or not you have frequent headaches, sodium in excess is harmful. By primarily relying on the sodium present in natural foods and preparing most meals in the home, we can avoid most sources of added salt and take in adequate but not dangerously high levels of sodium. Increased levels of cellular toxins and heightened cellular inflammation are the chief causes of headache syndromes in general. A diet rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants is the key to resolution. I have utilized an eating plan for headache sufferers with remarkable success; described in my book Eat For Health. For people who have frequent headaches, the solution is almost always dietary. This anti-headache diet starts with my basic Nutritarian dietary principles and additionally eliminates some healthful, yet potential trigger foods, such as nuts and avocados, which may be added back in at a later time. A huge nutritional improvement over the DASH diet, a Nutritarian diet is naturally low in sodium, and rich in green vegetables and other plant foods that enhance the body’s natural detoxification mechanisms and promote superior health. It is not merely elimination of trigger foods that is effective, it is that the person becomes healthier and improves their detoxification capabilities and remove cellular waste as they follow such a healthful diet. If you have regular headaches, you can banish them forever and earn back great health that will also offer you protection against later life stroke, heart disease and cancer simultaneously.


1. Smitherman TA, Burch R, Sheikh H, Loder E. The prevalence, impact, and treatment of migraine and severe headaches in the United States: a review of statistics from national surveillance studies. Headache 2013, 53:427-436. 
2. Hoffmann J, Recober A. Migraine and triggers: post hoc ergo propter hoc? Curr Pain Headache Rep 2013, 17:370. 
3. Phend C: Whole World Uses Too Much Salt, Study Finds. In MedPage Today2013. 
4. Armour S: High Salt Consumption Tied to 2.3 Million Heart Deaths. In Bloomberg2013. 
5. Gray N: High salt intake causes 2.3 million deaths per year. In Food Navigator2013. 
6. Fahimi S, Powels J, Pharoah P, et al: Abstract 017: National, Regional, and Global Sodium Intake in 1990 and 2010: A Systematic Analysis of 247 24-hour Urinary Sodium Excretion Studies and Dietary Surveys Worldwide. In American Heart Association Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2013 Scientific Sessions. New Orleans, LA2013. 
7. Svetkey LP, Sacks FM, Obarzanek E, et al. The DASH Diet, Sodium Intake and Blood Pressure Trial (DASH-sodium): rationale and design. DASH-Sodium Collaborative Research Group. J Am Diet Assoc 1999, 99:S96-104. 
8. Amer M, Woodward M, Appel LJ. Effects of dietary sodium and the DASH diet on the occurrence of headaches: results from randomised multicentre DASH-Sodium clinical trial. BMJ Open 2014, 4:e006671. 
9. riedman BW, Mistry B, West JR, Wollowitz A. The association between headache and elevated blood pressure among patients presenting to an ED. Am J Emerg Med 2014, 32:976-981. 
10. Webb AJ, Rothwell PM. The effect of antihypertensive treatment on headache and blood pressure variability in randomized controlled trials: a systematic review. J Neurol 2012, 259:1781-1787. 
11. Fagernaes CF, Heuch I, Zwart JA, et al. Blood pressure as a risk factor for headache and migraine: a prospective population-based study. Eur J Neurol 2015, 22:156-162, e110-151. 
12. Hagen K, Stovner LJ, Vatten L, et al. Blood pressure and risk of headache: a prospective study of 22 685 adults in Norway. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2002, 72:463-466. 
13. Huang Q, Li W, Li N, et al. Elevated blood pressure and analgesic overuse in chronic daily headache: an outpatient clinic-based study from China. J Headache Pain 2013, 14:51.

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