Oh, I am the Queen of Headaches ...
Aspertame is commonly found in diet foods or foods that are labelled "sugar-free" (eg Diet Coke, Lite Jello, etc.) as it's a sugar replacement; it's a very common trigger for headaches. Another sugar replacement, Splenda, is less likely to cause headaches but has been known to upset sensitive stomachs. (My friend can't handle either of them, so she just cuts back on the amount of real sugar she uses.)
There are a lot
of foods that can be triggers for headaches: aspertame, MSG (a preservative found in Chinese food, among other things), nitrates (found in hotdogs and lunch meats), caffeine, chocolate, red wine (because of the tannin ... there's also tannin in tea, but the caffeine cancels it out so that it's less likely to cause headaches, unless you're sensitive to caffeine as well), cheese, salt ... The list goes on and on.
As someone who suffers from headaches of all sorts, I find the best thing to do is to keep a headache journal. In it, I write down when I wake up, when I go to bed, how much sleep I got the night before (because I seldom sleep the whole night), what I had to eat (or not eating ... missing meals or having them delayed is a huge
trigger for me), how much exercise I got, and anything else that seems to be pertinent (for example, was someone on my bus wearing too much cologne? were the lights flickering at work? were there loud noises? did the weather change suddenly?). Write down the details of any headaches you get. When did it start? What do you think
triggered it? How bad was it? How long did it last? Was it accompanied by nausea or light sensitivity, or did you experience an aura beforehand? Did you take anything for it (be aware that using OTC painkillers too often can lead to "rebound" headaches), or try anything to alleviate it, like taking a nap or applying a cold (or hot) compress, and did any of those methods help? After a while, you'll find a pattern emerging, and this should help you reduce some of the triggers. If you notice that you get a headache every time you eat a lot of cheese, cut back on cheese (or cut it out of your diet entirely); if your headaches seem to come whenever you're low on sleep, improve your sleep routine. And so on. Some things are unavoidable (inconsiderate people who bathe in their perfume, loud construction going on outside your workplace, changes in weather patterns), but if you know you're going to get a headache because there's a storm coming, you can prepare for it. I know I'm allergic to strong perfumes, so I keep allergy medicine, sinus medicine and headache remedies on hand, because I can't predict when smelly people are going to take my bus or show up at my workplace. I know having a late lunch will give me a headache, so if I'm running behind at work, I munch on a handful of peanuts and that will keep the headache at bay.
Women are also more likely to suffer from headaches than men, because of changes in our hormones during our menstrual cycle. I'm slightly removed from this because I'm on Depo Provera and don't actually have
my period anymore
, but I typically get a headache about the time my next injection is due (or a day or two after the shot) because of the hormones. Other methods of birth control can have an impact on headaches (I get fewer headaches since I've been on Depo; my friend got more and stopped using it), so it's important to discuss this with your doctor to find out what works best for you.