What Food Triggers Migraines?
Do you suffer from regular migraines? There could be a link between what you eat and those migraines.
Diet can often lead to a migraine attack.
Food and diet factors that could be triggers to a migraine
- Not drinking enough water – we all need at least 8 glasses of pure, filtered water every day.
- One of the most common triggers is aged cheese and includes: blue cheeses, brie, cheddar, stilton, feta, gorgonzola, mozzarella, muenster, Parmesan, Swiss and processed cheese. These cheeses are high in tyramine.
- Eating other foods that are high in tyramine can also trigger migraines. While tyramine is a natural substance, it is formed from the breakdown of protein in food when this food begins the ageing process or if food is fermented, salted or pickled. This means that if tyramine is a problem for you (and your migraine attacks) then all proteins should be eaten when they are young and fresh and not left in the refrigerator for more than a day or two. Frozen food will not cause a problem.
- Certain food additives, including nitrites and artificial food colorings, are also common migraine headache triggers. What happens is that, like tyramine, these additives may increase blood flow to the brain.
- MSG can well be another type of trigger with induced headaches occurring as quickly as an hour after ingestion of MSG, leading to pressure in the chest or face; burning sensation in the chest, neck, or shoulders; dizziness; or abdominal discomfort.
- We all know what an “ice cream” headache feels like but for migraine sufferers this type of pain can be felt in those areas that are affected during a migraine. Most migraine sufferers find that they have to careful when they eat or drink cold foods and drinks.
- Dairy products can trigger migraines in some as the protein (known as casein) found in milk is a known allergenic. Casein creates histamines, which in turn are responsible for the production of mucus. If there is too much mucus, this puts pressure on brain membranes, which can trigger migraines.
- Just the failure to eat can be a further trigger as anything that disrupts your body's normal stability can cause a headache (including oversleeping and skipping meals). Eat regular meals and healthy snacks to avoid the onset of migraines.
Specific foods as triggers for migraines
- Aspartame (brand names - NutraSweet, Equal) and other artificial sweeteners; foods with meat tenderizers or yeast or yeast extracts.
- Caffeine, even in small amounts.
- Chocolate, cocoa and foods with nuts.
- Alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer and sherry.
- Aged, canned, cured or processed meats as well as chicken livers and other organ meats, and sardines.
- Cultured dairy products such as sour cream or buttermilk.
- Dried fruits including figs, raisins and dates.
- Some fresh fruits and vegetables such as avocados, bananas, kiwi fruits, onions, raspberries, red plum, spinach, papaya, pineapple, red plum and tomatoes.
- Breads, crackers and pizza containing cheese.
- Matured cheeses and smoked or dried fish.
- Canned soups or soups made from bouillon or based with MSG.
- Some other foods that are high in tyramine such as fava, garbanzo and Lima beans, peanut butter, pepperoni, pinto beans, salami, sauerkraut, soy sauce, summer sausage, teriyaki and tofu.
Keeping a food diary
It is worth while keeping a record of what you eat and whether a particular food has an adverse reaction leading to a migraine so that you can avoid such foods in your diet that may be linked to your migraines.
There are two ways to do this.
- One way is to keep a food diary where you map out when your migraines start and what you have eaten for the previous 2 days. If you are really keen, you keep exact notes as to what you eat daily for 6 months so that a pattern emerges.
- The second is to eliminate all the suspect foods for a month or so before adding back one food each week. A sudden side effect from that week's food helps you to isolate the problem.
Certain foods that are actually helpful in reducing the effects of migraines.Just be sure to eat them when they are fresh and not overripe.
- Fruits such as apples, apricots, berries, cherries, currants, grapes and mangoes.
- Vegetables such as beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumber, mushrooms, peppers, potatoes, spinach and turnips.
- Herbs and spices including garlic, ginger and parsley.
- Those foods with negligible amounts of tyramine include beverages, breads, fats, meat, poultry, fish, shellfish and eggs.
Getting your diet on the right track can often lead to less frequent migraine attacks.
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Migraine information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Migraine-Information-Page. (Accessed, Feb 13, 2021)
Bajwa ZH, et al. Acute treatment of migraine in adults. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. (Accessed, Feb 13, 2021)
ABC's of headache trigger management. American Migraine Foundation. https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/abcs-of-headache-trigger-management/. (Accessed, Feb 13, 2021)