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I don't review books I don't like!
*****= An all-time favorite
= Above average
= Good, with reservations
****Heal Your Headache
The 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain
by David Buchholz, M.D.
Reviewed October 1, 2004.
Workman Publishing, New York, 2002. 246 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (616.8491 BUC).
I thought I’d read all there is to know about headaches. I saw
this new book at the library and glanced through it, sure it contained
the same information I’d read many times. The first thing that caught
my eye was something I’d never seen mentioned in any medical book before—“Eustachian
For pretty much as long as I can remember, I usually have a feeling
of stuffiness in my ears, with popping noises. In high school, a
specialist said that my head had five more years to grow, and I would eventually
grow out of it. This was a clever diagnosis, since by the time he
was proved completely wrong, I didn’t live near that doctor any more.
David Buchholz explains that the eustachian tubes are lined with mucous
membranes, and migraine can cause the blood vessels in these mucous membranes
to swell, thus blocking the eustachian tubes. The down side to this
information is that he says that decongestants and antibiotics won’t work
to clear them. (Of course, I’ve been taking decongestants and knew
they didn’t work, but I clung to the notion that antibiotics helped temporarily
at the times I could talk a doctor into prescribing them.) This
adds up, since I’ve gotten frequent migraines since at least fourth grade.
Since I’ve had numerous doctors act as if I’m crazy with this complaint,
that one page increased my respect for David Buchholz. I checked
out the book.
Recently I’ve had a few friends talk about getting headaches worse
than they’ve ever had before. This makes sense, since headaches in
women tend to get worse before menopause and better after. I’m afraid
that’s the time of life we’re reaching. I’m strongly recommending
this book to these friends and to anyone else who gets headaches at all
“Heal Your Headache” explains the mechanism behind migraines better
than I’ve seen it presented in any other book. It also clearly explains
triggers and thresholds, showing how getting a headache depends on how many
triggers are present as well as how high your threshold is. He explains
the wide range of symptoms that can be present and even explains why headaches
are so often one-sided.
I expected the usual explanation of migraine versus tension-type headaches,
but this author believes that all headaches are caused by the same mechanism.
Since that has always seemed true in my case, it makes sense to me.
He claims that his program will help all types of headaches (except of
course secondary headaches caused by something like a tumor, which usually
make themselves known through other symptoms as well). Therefore this
book is good reading for anyone who gets headaches, even if you never thought
of yourself as having migraines.
Step 1 of the program is stopping Quick Fixes. In this chapter,
Buchholz explains rebound headaches and why those Quick Fixes can hurt
you more than they help. Although I understood about rebound headaches
and remember back to the days when I took 8 or 9 Excedrin a day, I had
never realized that Sudafed and many other decongestants also cause rebound
headaches. (Even though I had wondered about the way I tended to get
a headache when Sudafed wore off.)
The second step is to reduce your triggers. He focuses on dietary
triggers, providing a list of foods that people with migraine should avoid.
At first I was a bit skeptical, not wanting to disrupt my eating so much.
Then I noticed that I avoid most of the foods on the list already, since
I knew that they can cause headaches for me. However, there were some
notable exceptions. I knew that low blood sugar can give me a headache,
so I had started eating yogurt for snacks, and was disappointed that I
was getting headaches in late morning anyway. Then I saw yogurt on
the list of foods that can trigger migraine, and it made more sense.
A few others I hadn’t realized were dangerous are citrus fruits, onions, and
The third step of the program, if it is necessary, is to try preventative
medication. He lists medications that have proven helpful.
These work by raising your threshold.
Now, I have to say that while the information in this book is fantastic,
and I have little doubt that the 1-2-3 program would work, I find it just
a tad brutal. He recommends cutting off all quick fix medications
cold turkey at first, then implementing the diet, including cutting out
caffeine cold turkey, and only after that working on finding a preventative.
I am counting myself fortunate that I have recently found a preventative
that works beautifully for me. (Interestingly, it’s Neurontin (Gabapentin),
a drug that he dismisses as a fad.) This is after finding that most
other preventatives on his list had unacceptable side effects. (I
once thought that Inderal worked beautifully and used it for two years.
With the help of a rheumatologist, I finally figured out that it was giving
me drug-induced lupus. I was pretty leery of preventative medications
after that, yet I was taking Naproxen Sodium (Aleve) pretty much every day.)
Neurontin has dramatically decreased my headaches, and I’ve also dramatically
decreased the amount of Aleve I’m taking. So, for me, having a preventative
that I trust is going to help me reduce the quick fix medication and dietary
You could argue that I might not need a preventative if I took the
other steps first, but with all my decades of headaches, I’m afraid I don’t
believe that. I can always try reducing the preventative if my headaches
get even less frequent.
At first, I was also skeptical of his demand that headache sufferers
completely eliminate caffeine and never add it back. I have eliminated
caffeine for months at a time in the past. I know that it does affect
my headaches. However, I reasoned that no caffeine didn’t eliminate
the headaches completely and did take away a tool I could use against them.
(Caffeine’s main problem is its rebound effect.)
However, he has enough good information here and enough case studies
to convince me to try the first two steps of his program after all.
With a preventative that I’m completely impressed with to help me, I’m going
to try eliminating caffeine and the other suspect foods he lists.
It’s certainly worth a try.
If you get headaches more than once or twice a year, the $13.95 price
of this book is a tiny price to pay for the information and advice it
Copyright © 2004 Sondra Eklund.
All rights reserved.