Foods That Trigger Migraine
Migraines can be caused by a variety of factors, but food is a fairly common trigger. The challenge is there are no absolutes that apply across the board. Several foods that are common triggers still vary from person to person when it comes to how or even if they are affected. What doesnt faze one person at all can send another crawling to a dark room in blinding pain.
This means that the list of foods that trigger migraine is arbitrary at best. Yes, it has been narrowed from a statistical standpoint based on the percentage of the migraine population that is affected, but it does not provide a concrete guide and application must still be made on a case by case basis.
Axon Optics talked to registered dietician and nutritionist Ana Reisdorf, MS.RD. about how certain foods can trigger migraine and what can be done to determine which foods cause your migraines. Foods can present distinct challenges when it comes to your health, particularly regarding medical conditions and migraine is no exception. Understanding what role food plays in your overall health can allow you to take more control over your wellbeing.
How Our Diets Affect Migraine
Many things can trigger a migraine attack, including what we eat and drink.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, foods that trigger migraine may only do so when combined with other triggers. But this combination and any trigger in general is highly individualized, making research difficult.
Theres no such thing as a universal migraine trigger. But there are some common triggers that can cause or contribute to migraine episodes in some people.
But according to the American Migraine Foundation, caffeine can actually help stop oncoming migraine attacks. It can also offer headache relief with occasional use.
Foods and drinks with caffeine include:
one study , over 35% of the participants with migraine reported that alcohol was one of their common triggers.
Red wine in particular was reported as a trigger in over 77% of the participants who reported alcohol as a trigger.
Alcohol can cause dehydration, which is a significant contributor in developing headaches.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, chocolate is thought to be the second most common trigger for migraine attacks after alcohol. They say it affects an estimated 22 percent of people who experience migraine.
Chocolate contains both caffeine and beta-phenylethylamine, which may trigger headaches in some people.
Foods And Drinks That Trigger Migraine
There is a long list of foods that people report as migraine triggers, and more than half report several food triggers. The most common ones include:1,3
- Alcohol, especially red wine and beer
- Foods with yeast, baking soda, or baking powder
- Citrus fruits
- Cured meats such as ham, hot dogs, sausage, and salami
- Monosodium glutamate , a food additive
- Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose
- Drinks with caffeine such as coffee, tea, and soda
- Dairy products like ice cream and milk
- Foods high in histamines, nitrites, and nitrates
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How Do I Treat Migraine Attacks Triggered By Food
Treatment methods for other types of migraine headaches may provide some relief for food-related ones as well. Some options include prescription medications, injections, and migraine devices like Nerivio or gammaCore, some of which can provide fast relief. Of course, itâs always best to discuss treatment plans with your doctorâeveryone is different!
Chocolate: Is It Really A Migraine Trigger
Research recently presented at the International Headache Society suggests that cocoa may actually protect the nerve cells that cause migraine headaches. But 22 percent of headache sufferers identify chocolate on the list of foods that trigger migraines or headaches. “Chocolate may be getting a bad rap as a migraine trigger,” says Dr. Rosen. “Many people with migraines have increased appetite and food cravings just before their headaches start.” Reaching for a chocolate bar may be the result of a migraine, rather than the cause.
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Can Food Affect Migraines
In the past, certain foods like cheese, chocolate, and caffeine were thought by many people to trigger migraine attacks. But while these foods may bring on migraines in some people, there isnt a lot of scientific evidence to suggest that this is true for a majority of people with migraine.
What experts now believe is that the food thought to trigger the migraine is sometimes a craving that is part of the pre-headache phase of the migraine. Confused? Lets look at an example.
You eat a whole bar of dark chocolate one night. The next day you wake up with a migraine. You assume the chocolate triggered it. But what is probably going on is that in your pre-headache phase, you are experiencing heightened sensations that are coming out as a craving for dark chocolate. So, the craving for dark chocolate is actually part of the migraine, not the trigger.
Heres what we know for sure about food and migraines: Skipping meals is reported as a trigger in 57% of migraines, alcohol in 38%, and food in 27%.
How To Avoid Food
“Migraine disease is complex and affected by many factors,” says Simy Parikh, MD, program director of Thomas Jefferson University’s Post-Graduate Certificate Program in Advanced Headache Diagnosis and Management and Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology at Thomas Jefferson University.
Here Parikh offers some steps you can take to potentially reduce migraine triggers:
Eat healthily and consistently. You may have noticed that the migraine trigger list was lacking a few major food groups “healthy” foods such as fruits, vegetables, and protein, in particular. A 2020 review showed that most “migraine-friendly” healthy eating plans, such as low-fat diets, provided a decrease in the frequency of migraine attacks.
In addition to eating healthy foods, it’s important to keep a consistent eating schedule to avoid migraines.
“Low blood glucose can trigger headaches,” says Parikh. To keep your blood sugar steady, eat at roughly the same time every day without an extended amount of time between meals, she says. Parikh also suggests to all of her patients to maintain a healthy diet and weight.
Track food triggers and eliminate them from your diet. Since multiple factors contribute to migraines, many sufferers keep a headache diary. This is where they can list the frequency, duration, and intensity of migraines, as well as possible triggers, including food and drink.
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What Can You Eat When You Have A Migraine
It can take time to discover your unique triggers and figure out a dietary pattern that works best for you. But once you do, it can help you to reduce your symptoms.
Unfortunately for many people, eating a healthy diet free of triggers isnt always enough. Migraine attacks can be caused by many different factors, with food being just one potential trigger.
So what do you do when you are in the middle of an attack and dont know what to eat? Your best bet is to eat calming, nutritious, comforting foods.
Since many people who get migraines have nausea and gastrointestinal symptoms along with their headaches, it is important to eat foods that will soothe your stomach and that taste good to you. Experiment to find out what wont upset your stomach any more than it already is.
And choose healthy, nutrient-rich foods. It might be tempting to turn to sweets or junk food as comfort. But try to opt for things that give your body the nutrients and energy it needs to heal instead.
Think hydrating vegetables like cucumber, vitamin and mineral-loaded leafy greens, and antioxidant-rich berries.
Sweets As A Migraine Trigger
Sweets and desserts are one more group of food that trigger a migraine headache. Reasons for having a migraine after eating sweets are increased the level of sugar, dyes, or possible intolerance on milk. As one particular foodstuff, I would like to separate here is chocolate. Above all the main chemical trigger here is Phenylethylamine.
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A Few More Potential Trigger Foods
Even though weâd hate to take the fun out of even more of your favorite foods, we should let you know about these other potential trigger foods. According to the Cleveland Clinic, these foods are commonly reported as migraine triggers, but thereâs no scientific evidence that they really cause them, so donât clean out your fridge just yet. Instead, turn to a migraine tracker to see if any of these might be causing you pain.
- Chicken livers and other organ meats
- Dairy products like buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt
- Dried fruits like dates, figs, and raisins
- Most beans including lima, fava, navy, pinto, garbanzo, lentils, and snow peas
- Pickled foods like olives, sauerkraut, and, of course, pickles
- Potato chips
- Some fresh fruits like ripe bananas, papaya, red plums, raspberries, kiwi, and pineapple
- Smoked or dried fish
- Tomato-based products
References And Resources :
The information in this article is based on an interview with registered dietician and nutritionist Ana Reisdorf, MS.RD. Additional info came from more than 13 references including an article by Dr. Christina Sun-Edelstein and Dr. Alexander Mauskop, in The Clinical Journal of Pain.
A. . Migraine Diet: A Natural Approach to Migraines. Retrieved from http://www.pcrm.org/health/health-topics/a-natural-approach-to-migraines
Aydinlar, E. I., Dikmen, P. Y., Tiftikci, A., Saruc, M., Aksu, M., Gunsoy, H. G., & Tozun, N. . IgGBased Elimination Diet in Migraine Plus Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2012.02296.x
Bergh, V. V., Amery, W. K., & Waelkens, J. . Trigger Factors in Migraine: A Study Conducted by the Belgian Migraine Society. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1526-4610.1987.hed2704191.x
Foods and Supplements in the Management of Migraine : The Clinical Journal of Pain. . Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/clinicalpain/Abstract/2009/06000/Foods_and_Supplements_in_the_Management_of.15.aspx
Millichap, J. G., & Yee, M. M. . The diet factor in pediatric and adolescent migraine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12657413
Optics, A. . Migraine Glasses | Benefits of Precision Tinted Lenses for Migraines. Retrieved from http://www.axonoptics.com/2017/03/seven-benefits-migraine-glasses/
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Food Drink And Additive Triggers
Perhaps because of the genetic variations, no studies exist that prove a particular food or drink ingredient triggers attacks in all migraine sufferers. There have been studies that show certain ingredients trigger attacks in some people. Theres also evidence from surveys of migraine sufferers and headache diary analysis that these triggers exist. From those research findings and anecdotal evidence from migraine sufferers a few likely culprits emerge:
It appears that some migraine sufferers dont process foods containing the amino acid tyramine in the same way that people without migraines do. A few examples of tyramine-rich foods include:
- Aged cheeses blue, Swiss, Parmesan, feta, aged cheddar
- Cured meats salami, summer sausages, pepperoni, corned beef
- Pickled foods olives, sauerkraut, kimchee
- Broad beans fava beans, snow peas
- Fermented soy products soy sauce, tofu, miso soup, teriyaki sauce
A slice of cheese in your sandwich wont necessarily trigger a migraine, says Stephen F. Knox, M.D., a neurologist with Sutter Medical Group neurologist who treats patients with migraine, but a platter of cheese, olives and salami at the party certainly could especially if you add a glass of red wine.
Some studies refute the idea that these additives trigger migraines, but the consensus seems to be that certain additives affect subgroups of migraine sufferers.
Does Food Really Trigger Migraines
Of course, the relationship between food and migraine isnât clear-cut, and unfortunately, no single factor can be directly tied to your attacks. That said, there’s scientific evidence that suggests migraines may be triggered by certain foods. Additionally, 27% of those who experience migraines believe that particular foods are personally triggering.
According to Dr. Sara Crystal, clinical neurologist and Cove Medical Director, certain foods and additives are more likely to trigger headaches in a higher percentage of migraineurs, but even among individuals, other factors like stress, hormonal changes, and lack of sleep can increase the likelihood of an attack after consuming a known trigger.
So, without further ado, hereâs a list of the most common food triggers for migraine sufferers, in no particular order.
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Pay Attention To The Weather
Changes in the weather can impact your migraine patterns. High humidity and hot temperatures can stimulate headaches, as well as rainy days. If the weather becomes uncomfortable for you, you may need to step inside and take a break from the outdoors. Of course, you cant always avoid going outside, but you can minimize your time spent in certain headache-inducing weather.
At The Small Plates Spot: Skip The Brie Try The Mozzarella
If youre going to start or end with a cheese plate, know that aged cheeses such as cheddar, blue, brie, Swiss, parmesan and Roquefort contain a natural compound called tyramine, which may trigger a migraine in some. The National Headache Foundation suggests limiting intake to four ounces for aged cheeses, but if youd rather not take any chances, go for fresh cheese like mozzarella and ricotta.
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What Foods Can Help Prevent Migraines
Eating a healthful diet can help prevent migraines. A healthful diet should consist of fresh foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Fresh foods are less likely to have added food preservatives, such as monosodium glutamate . Preservatives can trigger migraines in some people, so avoiding foods that contain them can help.
The Association of Migraine Disorders have created a list of migraine safe foods to guide a persons food choices. These foods generally do not contain preservatives, yeasts, flavorings, and other substances that are potential migraine triggers, such as nitrites and phenylalanine.
Below, we look at which foods to eat and avoid within a range of food groups:
Combining Therapies For Migraine Treatment
While diet can play a significant role in your migraine attacks, it may not be the only trigger. You will still need to look at your environment, health, and stress levels. You may find that migraine medication and some natural remedies for migraine will help to boost your preventative measures.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to maintain healthy habits. Get enough sleep each night, get regular exercise, and stay hydrated. Learn stress-relieving techniques and take time for yourself. Maintain a healthy diet whether you eliminate all triggering foods from your diet, or just a few items. If light sensitivity is a problem, wear migraine glasses, not only outdoors, but indoors as well especially while using your computer or other electronic devices.
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Avoidable Triggers: Migraine Trigger Foods
Medical Review:David Watson, MD
If youve read much about Migraine disease, or participated in online Migraine discussion groups, youre bound to have come across discussions about Migraine trigger foods. As with other Migraine topics, you may find differing information. One reason for that is that Migraine trigger foods, like other issues surrounding Migraine, arent yet fully understood.
Below is a list of potential Migraine trigger foods. Theres a more comprehensive list in our workbook, which you can download from a link below. You may find yourself asking why the foods listed below would be Migraine trigger foods. The truth is that nobody is entirely sure, but the trigger factors seem to be chemicals in these foods some naturally occurring, others used in processing or preserving the foods. Weve tried to put the specific chemicals in parentheses following each of the foods listed.
Its always helpful to identify our Migraine triggers. With Migraine trigger foods, its especially helpful because these are triggers we can avoid, and that can mean fewer Migraine attacks.
How Do I Prevent My Food Allergies From Giving Me Migraine Attacks
If you have determined your trigger foods, your doctor will recommend that you avoid them as much as possible. Your doctor may also recommend a low-tyramine diet. Tyramine is an amino acid often found in foods that are aged, fermented, or processed foods like cured meats, aged cheeses, and pickled products. The American Migraine Foundation also suggests eating smaller meals more often to stave off hunger throughout the day, which can be another diet-related migraine trigger. Their experts say to shoot for five to six smaller-portioned meals, rather than three larger ones.
Thereâs research to suggest that these approaches can be successful for some patients: A 2010 study found that diet restriction based on the presence of those allergen-related antibodies we mentioned earlier âis an effective strategy in reducing the frequency of migraine attacks,â but keep in mind that tests for those antibodies can be unreliable.
Suffering from food allergies on top of migraine headaches can be frustrating, especially when it involves eliminating foods from your diet that you love. But as hard as these lifestyle changes are to make, they can help you avoid headaches and allergic reactions at the same time. And who knows? Maybe youâll discover a delicious migraine-safe recipe in the process.
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Top Foods That Trigger Migraine
The relationship between migraines and food is a very personal one. There is no universal directive for foods that should be eliminated from the diet as a preventative measure against migraine. At first glance, the list may appear daunting, especially when you break down additives or chemicals that are in the food. You may walk away wondering if there is anything that you can eat!
The good news is, its very rare for a person to be affected by most of the offending foods and even rarer, for someone to be affected by everything on the list. The chances are very good that, at most, you will walk away with a handful of foods that you will need to avoid and you can freely enjoy the rest.
This list is broken down into two categories: Foods and food additives. This makes it a little easier to review and understand. In many areas they will overlap since additives are found in foods. As you review the list, some foods may immediately pop onto your radar as you make the connection between your migraines and certain things that you eat regularly. However, some foods may not be as apparent. It is best to thoroughly assess all the foods you come in contact with in order to determine what should be omitted from your diet.