Identify And Avoid Trigger Foods
It is estimated that 90% of all migraines are directly linked to allergies and sensitivities to certain foods or food additives. Keeping a diary of diet and headaches may help identify trigger foods. Although people’s responses to foods differ, certain foods and food additives appear to be more likely to cause allergic reactions. For more on this topic, see Common Foods Known to Trigger Migraine Headaches.
Smoked Or Processed Meats
If you’re eating meats or vegan meats that are processed, they likely contain additives, such as nitrates and nitrites, which can dilate blood vessels and cause headaches in some people. Plus, these meats also have tyramine, says Rizzo, which might lead to the onset of head pain. You’re better off grilling or roasting a plain piece of unprocessed meat and pairing it with fresh veggies instead of pickled or fermented ones.
How Stress Can Cause Migraines
Stress is a very common cause of migraines and this isnt the only problem that it can bring on. If youre under stress over a long period, it can cause your adrenal glands to become fatigued and bring on Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome .
The adrenals are a pivotal part of your NeuroEndoMetabolic stress response, the bodys primary system for stress control and protection. When you experience stress, the NEM stress response causes your adrenals to excrete cortisol and prompts a range of reactions in other organs and systems in your body. These are natural processes and very beneficial in most cases. However, if youre under ongoing stress, then the NEM stress response can become overworked.
The stress that results in AFS can come from several different sources. Its ongoing, causes low levels of inflammation throughout the body, and can lead to wear and tear on many other systems. Some causes of this kind of stress can be work pressures, relationships, environmental toxins, a sedentary lifestyle, and a poor diet.
This creates another connection between stress and migraines. People who are chronically stressed often eat on the run and make poor food choices. This means that theyre more likely to indulge in all the worst foods for migraines. Imbalances in the neuroaffect circuit may also be an important cause of migraines.
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Do: Track Your Personal Food Triggers
There are many possible food triggers tied to migraines, and the ones that affect you might be different from the ones that affect someone else. In addition, it can be hard to pinpoint whether a particular food is really a trigger for you. Our diets consist of many different things. If you get frequent headaches, it becomes difficult to know which headaches are by chance and which may be associated with parts of your diet, says VanderPluym.
Keeping a food diary can help. Try writing down what you eat each day and whether you experience a migraine soon after. If over 50 percent of the time when you consume a food or drink it triggers a headache either that day or the following day, its probably a trigger, says Martin. If you suspect something is a trigger, you can then try to eliminate it from your diet to see if it reduces the number of migraines you experience. If youre unsure if something is a trigger for you, you can also get a blood test to measure food reactivity by tracking what are called IgG antibodies and then eliminating the foods you react to.
If you keep a food diary and cant find a pattern between your diet and migraines, it may be that you dont have specific food triggers.
Foods As A Trigger: Which Ones To Avoid
Those who suffer from migraines should control their diet since certain foods can decrease the episodes of migraine attacks, while others can provoke them.
It is necessary to exclude the foods below:
- Nitrate: can be found in vegetables and fruits. Nitrate content is highest in a green salad, dill, parsley, green onions, red and white radishes, beets, cabbage, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons, melons, apples, peaches, eggplant, bananas, and grapes.
- Histamine: is found in seafood, chocolate, spinach, kiwi, bananas, strawberries, pears, pineapples, and yeast-containing foods.
- Tyramine: dried and processed meats, soy sauce, sauerkraut, aged cheese, chocolate, garlic, nuts, legumes, beer, too ripe avocados, and bananas.
- Monosodium glutamate: is a food additive used during the production of canned foods, crackers, chips, and processed foods.
- Phenylethylamine: can be found in wine, citrus fruits.
- Aspartame: a sweetener that can be found in bakery, yogurts, and beverages.
- Caffeine: in coffee, tea .
- Sodium nitrite: in sausages and other processed meat products.
Individuals suffering from migraines should observe for themselves which products trigger episodes of migraine attacks and avoid such foods. The list of triggers can change over a lifetime.
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Is There Such A Thing As A Migraine Prevention Diet
Diet may be important for some headache sufferers, but not for others. Almost half of headache sufferers report that fasting will trigger a headache. Some patients try to eliminate from their diet anything listed as a potential trigger, but the list of foods that may trigger migraine can be exhaustive. Therefore, dietary restriction of all migraine triggers for any extended length of time is likely unhealthy.
A rational and useful approach about migraine and diet needs to focus on learning the facts and being smart. Patients should invest some time in learning about which foods are potential triggers for them, and then they can try to limit their consumption, especially during high-risk times. Over time, it is possible to become skillful in identifying migraine triggers and avoiding these selected foods at those times when their risk of migraine is high. For example, at certain times in the menstrual cycle, many women experience more frequent headache attacks.
Two common food items have been tested in several studies. An aspartame study showed only a modest worsening of headache in subjects who consumed huge amounts of aspartame for one month.
In a study of chocolate as a trigger, eating even large amounts of chocolate didnt trigger headaches when patients couldnt tell if they were eating chocolateeven for individuals who believed chocolate was a headache trigger for them.
Food And Migraine: A Personal Connection
- By Christine Junge, Contributor
ARCHIVED CONTENT: As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date each article was posted or last reviewed. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
At a Harvard Medical School talk on migraine and food, a nutritionist from Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center delivered a message that people in the audience probably didnt want to hear: There are no specific dietary recommendations for migraine sufferers, said Sandra Allonen. But she did have some advice to offerand she emphasized that the connection between food and migraine is a very individual one.
Several foods have been associated with triggering migraine. None of them has been scientifically proven to cause migraines, explained Allonen, but many people report a link between eating these foods and getting a migraine. Possible migraine triggers include:
- Nitrates and nitrites, which are found in processed meats such as bacon and cold cuts
- Sulfites, which are found in wine
- Tyramine, which is found in aged cheeses and meats, and fermented beverages
- Yellow Dye Number 6, which is used in Doritos, Mountain Dew, and Peeps
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What Foods Can Trigger A Migraine
There are a number of foods that are suspected to trigger migraines in some people but, as Dr. Natbony pointed out, studies havent found these triggers to be universal. The list of suspected triggers youll find online includes:
- Cured meat
Other lists of potential migraine-trigger foods youll see mentioned online include nuts, ice cream, onions, and dairy foods. Plus, foods that include MSG, histamines, nitrites, gluten, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose.
Thats a lot of foods, yes? So its clear to see why it might be tough to figure out exactly what may be triggering the pain.
Patients often want to find potential food triggers but, in reality, food often is not a contributing factor, says Dr. Natbony. Ive found that searching for a food trigger can be stressful for patients, and the overall yield is quite low.
She continues: The most common food triggers are caffeine, MSG, nitrites , alcohol , artificial sweeteners , citrus fruits, and aged cheese. However, the evidence is overall quite poor. And triggers are specific to each person and not universal,”
In terms of chocolate, the evidence is conflicting, adds Dr. Natbony. Some studies have shown it to be a possible trigger. However, other studies have shown that chocolate can potentially benefit migraine.
The Perks Of Caffeine
Caffeine can be a friend to some people living with migraine and a foe to others, says Kylie Petrarca, a registered nurse with the Association of Migraine Disorders in North Kingstown, RI. During a migraine, blood vessels swell, causing an increase in blood flow around the nerves in your head and neck, which in turn send pain messages to your brain. Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties, meaning it causes blood vessels to narrow and restrict blood flow, alleviating the head pain.
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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:
Collard Mustard And Turnip Greens
These greens are all high in magnesium and add delicious variety to your migraine diet. Known as traditional southern greens, this trio is excellent sauteed, braised, or added to soups. For example, check out this quick collard green recipe, or this recipe for southern collard greens. You could even add these greens into your pasta, for example this dish with pasta collard greens and onions.
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Is It A Trigger Or A Warning
We know that the brain of someone with migraine likes balance, like regular sleep and meal patterns. We also know that migraine can be triggered by alcohol and the menstrual cycle. The evidence for other triggers, such as exercise, eating chocolate and bright light, is less certain.
It can sometimes be difficult to tell if something is really a trigger, or if what youre experiencing is an early symptom of a migraine attack.
Studies have found that sometimes what you may think is a trigger is actually to do with the premonitory or warning stage of a migraine attack.
During this stage, you may get symptoms such as changes in your mood or emotions, cravings for certain foods, and being more sensitive to light, sound or smells.
These symptoms can lead to you think that something is triggering your migraine attack. For example, at the beginning of a migraine attack, you may start to crave sweet foods. You may then eat some chocolate to satisfy the craving. When you then get a headache, you may think that eating chocolate was the trigger. But actually you were starting to have a migraine attack when the cravings started and the cravings were the warning sign.
The same could be true for other triggers. If you are more sensitive to light in the warning stage, you might think bright lights are a trigger. If you are more sensitive to smells, you might think certain scents are a trigger.
How Can I Modify My Diet To Prevent Migraines
If youre not sure whether or not certain foods trigger your migraines or what those foods might be it doesnt hurt to opt for healthy, natural foods that are beneficial to everyones health.
Natural, whole, and minimally processed foods without preservatives or artificial flavorings such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and eggs
Fresh meats, fish, and poultry like chicken breast, salmon, and lean beef or ham
Natural sweeteners like maple syrup and raw honey
Anti-inflammatory foods and supplements like omega-3s and turmeric
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Is Migraine Due To Food Allergy
Allergy has been suggested as trigger for migraine. Allergy technically means a particular type of immune response, which has not been found in scientific migraine studies. Some use the word allergy more loosely, where scientific medicine might use the words intolerance or sensitivity. It follows that allergy testing is not helpful in migraine patients furthermore, skin testing can show allergies which are not clinically relevant.
Caffeine: A Cautionary Tale
On the flip side, caffeine can cause dehydration due to its diuretic properties, which is another trigger for migraine, so its important to stay hydrated while consuming it, Petrarca says. For those who brew up a morning cup or three on the regular, try sticking to the same amount each day, and drink it at the same time of day, to help guard against migraines. Also, limit consumption to less than 200 mg if you can. Overconsumption of caffeine can result in a migraine transforming from episodic to chronic, she says.
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Is There A Link Between Migraines And Food
It’s known that food can trigger a migraine in some people, but science hasnt totally figured out the mechanism of how or why that happens. And it can be super-hard to suss out exactly what foods are causing your problem, or if food is even a factor.
One reason why it can be hard to figure out what your triggers are: The same food wont always bring on a migraine and how much of it you eat and even the timing of when you chow it down can have an impact. Also, the headache may develop hours after you eat, making it even more difficult to pinpoint the trigger. Another thing that can complicate your detective work is that a migraine may be triggered by multiple factors including the weather, stress, exercise, whether youre dehydrated, and more including how these things interplay with each other. And your genetic makeup can play a role as well.
Trying to figure out if there is a food trigger can be very daunting, says Lauren R. Natbony, M.D., neurologist and headache specialist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Migraine patients are told to avoid a whole slew of foods however, not all of those foods will trigger a migraine attack in every person with migraine.
What Are The Symptoms Of Migraines
Migraines are usually diagnosed when an individual has recurrent attacks that feature a number of neurobiological symptoms. These include:
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What You Eat May Make A Difference In How Often You Have Migraine Attacks
If you experience migraines, you know that they can be brought on by a variety of factors. These can include high stress levels, sleep disruptions, weather changes, and your diet, including what you eat and drink, and when.
Dietary triggers are some of the more common triggers reported by people with migraines, says Vincent Martin, MD, director of the Headache and Facial Pain Center at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute in Ohio and president of the National Headache Foundation . Part of the frustration of living with migraines can be trying to figure out what triggers them. You might have a glass of red wine one time and have a headache, another time, you dont, he says.
First, its good to understand how migraines differ from other types of headaches. According to , a headache specialist in the department of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, migraines are not just headaches but an issue of brain state, meaning senses like touch, sight, and smell are also affected during a migraine.
While scientists debate the exact cause of migraines, theres no doubt that environmental factors such as diet play a role in triggering them. To prevent migraines , try making these small adjustments to your diet.
When To Seek Professional Help
Even if youve had migraines before, certain cases prompt emergency help. Seek immediate medical attention if:
- The headache hurts worse than any youve had before.
- The attack causes difficulty talking, coordinating movements, and/or visual disturbances.
- You lose your balance.
- The headache sets on rapidly.
As you live with migraines and manage them, and especially if youre taking medications, you should call your doctor in the following cases:
- Theres a change in the pattern of your attacks your headaches are getting worse.
- Your medications are no longer effective in preventing or managing migraines.
- The side effects of your medications are debilitating.
- You are taking pain medications three or more times a week.
- The headaches get much worse when you are leaning over or lying down.
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