Effects of dietary sodium and the DASH diet on the occurrence of headaches: results from randomised multicentre DASH-Sodium clinical trial

BMJ Open. 2014 Dec 11;4(12):e006671. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006671.


Objectives: Headaches are a common medical problem, yet few studies, particularly trials, have evaluated therapies that might prevent or control headaches. We, thus, investigated the effects on the occurrence of headaches of three levels of dietary sodium intake and two diet patterns (the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) 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)).

Design: Randomised multicentre clinical trial.

Setting: Post hoc analyses of the DASH-Sodium trial in the USA.

Participants: In a multicentre feeding study with three 30 day periods, 390 participants were randomised to the DASH or control diet. On their assigned diet, participants ate food with high sodium during one period, intermediate sodium during another period and low sodium during another period, in random order.

Outcome measures: Occurrence and severity of headache were ascertained from self-administered questionnaires, completed at the end of each feeding period.

Results: The occurrence of headaches was similar in DASH versus control, at high (OR (95% CI)=0.65 (0.37 to 1.12); p=0.12), intermediate (0.57 (0.29 to 1.12); p=0.10) and low (0.64 (0.36 to 1.13); p=0.12) sodium levels. By contrast, there was a lower risk of headache on the low, compared with high, sodium level, both on the control (0.69 (0.49 to 0.99); p=0.05) and DASH (0.69 (0.49 to 0.98); p=0.04) diets.

Conclusions: A reduced sodium intake was associated with a significantly lower risk of headache, while dietary patterns had no effect on the risk of headaches in adults. Reduced dietary sodium intake offers a novel approach to prevent headaches.

Trial registration number: NCT00000608.

Keywords: DASH-Sodium trial; Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension; Headache; Sodium.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Pressure
  • Dairy Products
  • Diet, Fat-Restricted
  • Diet, Sodium-Restricted*
  • Diet, Western
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Fruit
  • Headache / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prehypertension / diet therapy*
  • Sodium / administration & dosage*
  • Sodium / adverse effects
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary / adverse effects
  • Sodium, Dietary / administration & dosage*
  • Sodium, Dietary / adverse effects
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vegetables


  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary
  • Sodium, Dietary
  • Sodium

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00000608