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Ask Dr. Scott: The after dinner headache

Q:  I like to drink wine in the evening with dinner, while my boyfriend drinks whiskey. Yet I am the one who wakes up with headaches in the morning. Can you tell me why this might be?

A:  Watch out for sulfites, common sulfur-based preservatives in food and drink that can cause headaches and sinus irritations. So observe how your body (and particularly your liver) reacts to certain wines, champagnes, beers, and fruit juices. Raw white cabbage or peeled potatoes sold in supermarkets, salted and whitened fish, certain frozen food products (check the labels), mustard, vinegar, and mayonnaise all contain sulfites and can stress your liver. 

Some signs of liver overload include headaches, irritability, fatigue, nausea, digestive disturbances (bloating, gas, and constipation), inflammation, irritated and watery eyes, hypertension, PMS and other hormonal imbalances, as well as skin break-outs. (Guyton & Hall, 2010)

Some people are highly allergic to sulfites. (Sulfites and Chronic Disease, 2002) One of my patients, who was already very well informed about nutrition, came into my office with a package of mango slices. “Look at how beautiful they are,” she said, offering me some.

“If they are that bright yellow color, that means the mangoes may contain sulfur-based preservatives.”  My answer surprised her. “That can’t be true – I bought them in a health food store,” she responded, handing me the package.

I read through the list of ingredients with her and discovered “Sodium metabisulfite”. I said, “You see, that is a sulfite which allows dried fruit to keep its color. Try buying packaged grated carrots in a supermarket. Forget them for a week in the fridge, and then have a look at them. If they are still beautifully orange, check the packaging – you’re likely to find sulfites.”

These preservatives have given birth to strange new foods at the grocery store, like the handy pre-cut carrots. Carrots are excellent for your health in their natural state, but they become toxic if you add preservatives to them. When you wake up with a headache, would you ever think of the carrots you ate the night before? Also be careful with those peanuts, cashews or almonds you may be served with your drink. If they contain sulfites, they’ve been sprayed to keep their color and freshness. If you wake up feeling low the next morning, don’t necessary blame the wine you had the night before. Do remember though that moderate amounts of red wine – one to three glasses a day – has been shown to prolong life and reduce cancer and heart disease compared to nondrinkers! Research suggests though that it’s not the alcohol but a powerful anti-oxidant bioflavonoid in the wine that does this.

The food colorings used to treat the surface of citrus fruits are less toxic but not very healthy either, especially since they penetrate into the fruit and can’t be washed off, even when you scrub the fruit under running water. These additives get inside the food and washing is ineffective in removing them.

In general the fresher and less processed the food — the better it is for you. You will feel better and have far less risk of dis-ease. Eat fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, drink wines clearly made without sulfites, and eat meats that have no additives. Raising your own foods is best, and organic foods are the next best. 

Q:  Can artificial sweeteners give people headaches as well?

A:  One of the most common artificial sweeteners in the world is aspartame, which is also known by its other names: NutraSweet and Equal. NutraSweet is sold in over 100 countries, found in over 6,000 products, and is consumed by nearly 300 million people. It’s found in most diet soda and chewing gym. There is now very good evidence that “aspartame disease” is a real problem, and this term encompasses the symptoms, complications, and medicolegal ramifications of this chemical sweetener. H.J. Roberts, MD, has written a massive 1,038-page medical text called Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic (2001) addressing the many types of health problems that can occur from aspartame use. The neurotoxic effect of aspartame is linked to migraine headaches, mental confusion, depression, balance problems, and seizures. Way back in 1994 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive list of aspartame-induced reactions, which encompassed everything from chronic fatigue syndrome and seizures to infertility and death.

The best way to determine if you are suffering from artificial sweeteners like aspartame is to simply eliminate all artificial sweeteners from your diet for a period of one to two weeks. After this period, reintroduce it in a significant quantity. Nearly two-thirds of aspartame sufferers experience symptomatic improvement within two days after avoiding aspartame. It’s definitely worth a try.


Dr. Scott Cuthbert Dr. Scott Cuthbert is the chief clinician at the Chiropractic Health Center in Pueblo, Colorado, as well as the author of two textbooks (released January 15th, 2013) and over 50 peer-reviewed research articles. PuebloChiropracticCenter.com.

More information on his books on applied Applied Kinesiology can found at thepulp.me/drscottbooks

If you would like to ask Dr. Scott a question at email:  cranialdc@hotmail.com.  

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