Lowering Salt Intake Reduces Headaches by a Third

11th December 2014

New research from the United States published today in the BMJ Open (11.12.14); ‘Effects of dietary sodium and the DASH diet on the occurrence of Headaches’ [REF 1], has shown that when people reduce their salt intake, there is a big and significant reduction (31%) in the number of them suffering from headaches.

The study was a carefully conducted dietary feeding study of over 400 people (the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which compared a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products with reduced saturated and total fat, and a control diet (typical of Western consumption patterns)). On both of these diets salt intake was reduced in a randomized crossover study from 8g to 6g to 4g/day.  

The study clearly demonstrated that going from a salt intake of 8g/day to 4g/day caused a significant reduction in headaches (31%) whereas a comparison between the healthy diet and the unhealthy American diet had no significant effect on headaches, demonstrating that this effect is due to the salt reduction. Importantly, the reduction in headaches was the same in people with raised or normal blood pressure.

The likely explanation for this reduction in headaches is the fall in blood pressure and reduction in pulse pressure that occurred with the salt reduction. Headaches are a very common medical problem, with just under half of all adults estimated to suffer from regular headaches.  The direct costs of healthcare, time off work and medications for the management of headaches, are substantial.

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) and World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) welcomes this new research. Reducing salt intake is an entirely novel way of trying to stop people developing and suffering from headaches.

Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of CASH and WASH, Queen Mary University of London says,
“We have long suspected that reducing salt intakes reduces the number of people developing headaches, but this is the first well-controlled trial that really demonstrates a very large reduction in headaches just from modest reductions in salt intake. Importantly, the effect is independent of the level of blood pressure, as the reduction in headaches occurred in those with high and normal blood pressure. We would strongly advocate that those people who have headaches reduce their salt intake as it may abolish their headaches as well as having the very important effect of lowering their blood pressure and thereby the risk of a stroke and or heart attack.”

Katharine Jenner, Nutritionist and Campaign Director for CASH says,
“Rather than just reaching for the medicine cabinet, we should be thinking about what is causing our ill health; it is often lifestyle and diet-related.  If you can get less headaches and lower your blood pressure just by eating less salt, that’s two less pills you will need to take!”

-ENDS-

National PR - David Clarke:  david@rock-pr.com M: 07773 225516
Author (US) - Lawrence J. Appel, MD, MPH, directly at lappel@jhmi.edu or on 410-955-4156 (Office). NB  4 hours behind UK time.
CASH (UK) - Professor Graham MacGregor: g.macgregor@qmul.ac.uk  Tel:+44 (0) 20 7882 6217

REF 1 – Muhammad Amer, Mark Woodward, Lawrence J Appel. 2014 ‘Effects of dietary sodium and the DASH diet on the occurrence of headaches: results from randomised multicentre DASH-Sodium clinical trial’ BMJ Open, 4:12 e006671. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006671