- 8 Foods That Can Trigger a Migraine
- 1. Caffeine
- 2. Aged cheese and meats
- 3. Alcohol
- 4. Monosodium glutamate, or MSG
- 5. Citrus fruits
- 6. Chocolate
- 7. Spicy foods
- 8. Foods or drinks containing aspartame
- What to Do if Food Triggers Your Migraines
- Avoiding triggers
Headaches and Food
- What foods and drinks are thought to trigger headaches in susceptible people?
- How common are food triggered headaches?
- How do I determine which foods and drinks are my headache triggers?
- With so many complicating factors, what’s the best approach to reduce my chance of getting a headache?
- Foods that Trigger Migraine
- Why Does Food Trigger Migraine?
- Top Foods that Trigger Migraine
- Trigger List: Foods
- Trigger List: Additives
- What You Should Know about MSG
- Pain Safe Foods from the Migraine Diet
- Eating Habits that can Trigger Migraine
- Food Intolerances are not Necessarily Triggers
- Elimination Diet for Identifying Food Triggers
- The Role of Anti-Inflammatory Foods in Migraine
- Combining Therapies for Migraine Treatment
- Resources for People Exploring their Food – Migraine Relationship
- Migraine Food Triggers
- Food, Drink and Additive Triggers
8 Foods That Can Trigger a Migraine
Aged cheeses, wine, and certain meats are all possible migraine triggers for some people. iStock; Stocksy (2)
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There’s no cure for migraines, the debilitating type of pain that’s sometimes accompanied by nausea, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and sound. But by avoiding some of your triggers, it might be possible to cut back on the frequency of the attacks.
One such trigger is food — and not just what you eat but also when you eat it.
“While diet alone is rarely the cause of headaches, it may well be involved as a trigger for migraine,” says Noah Rosen, MD, the director of Northwell Health’s Headache Center in Great Neck, New York, and an associate professor of neurology at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in Hempstead, New York. “There are varying degrees of evidence for specific foods to be triggers, but there may also be a wide range of individual responses.”
What causes your head-splitting pain could be very different than what causes, say, your mother’s migraine. “Even people in the same family will likely share the same genetic predisposition for migraine but can have very different triggers,” explains Thomas Berk, MD, a headache neurologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
In general, however, going too long without eating or drinking can provoke head pain, according to Dr. Rosen, which could put some people at risk more than others. This includes “teachers, nurses, construction workers, truck drivers, or other professions where access to bathroom facilities drives under-hydration,” he says.
“The ‘migraine brain’ in general doesn’t like change,” he says, “and avoiding or missing meals may be as important as what you eat.”
Your direct trigger — or class of foods — may be difficult to pinpoint, but here are some usual suspects:
Some caffeine can actually help relieve a headache, but it’s a double-edged sword, says Rosen. When you use it every day, you can become dependent on it, and consuming 80 milligrams less than your usual amount can bring on a headache, he says. Since the amount of caffeine varies widely in drinks and foods like chocolate, it’s worth looking at your own daily use, he advises.
2. Aged cheese and meats
The nitrites or nitrates in salami and other aged meats are thought to bring on a migraine. Plus, these foods are also very salty, which can make you dehydrated, Rosen says.
It’s not so much the alcohol itself that’s associated with a migraine — it’s the withdrawal from it the next day, according to Rosen. And don’t blame the Pinot Noir just yet. “There is no good evidence demonstrating red wine to be trigger than other alcoholic beverages, but there is speculation that the tannins, sulfate preservatives, and other contaminants may play a role for individuals,” he says.
4. Monosodium glutamate, or MSG
“We do know that glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter and can trigger a migraine attack,” Dr. Berk says. Rosen points out that MSG is not only found in Chinese fast food but also in many prepared foods, including barbecue sauce and salad dressings.
5. Citrus fruits
Along with other high-acid foods, these are also sometimes thought to cause gastric irritation and trigger migraines, Rosen says.
It may not technically be a trigger — but eating it may still precede a migraine. “It may be that your body craves chocolate prior to a migraine because the caffeine and antioxidants in chocolate can treat some of the symptoms of migraine,” Berk says. Usually it’s darker chocolate that’s the culprit, he says.
7. Spicy foods
Chili peppers are probably more likely than any other kind of spicy food to trigger migraines, Berk says. “It’s likely that they react on certain pain receptors — called TRP receptors — in the brain that lower the threshold for developing a migraine,” he explains.
8. Foods or drinks containing aspartame
Experts aren’t sure why aspartame can trigger a migraine, but Berk says that people who are sensitive to the additive should avoid any food that contains it — especially diet sodas.
What to Do if Food Triggers Your Migraines
If you suspect that certain foods may be triggering your migraines, try these tips:
- Start a headache journal. If you aren’t sure what’s triggering your head pain, write down potential triggers such as foods you ate or things you did shortly before your migraine started, says Berk.
- Eliminate the most likely culprits. “Whenever someone has very obvious food triggers we definitely recommend avoiding those foods,” Berk says. “In general, we do not recommend being on specific ‘migraine diets,’ as studies have not shown any benefit in improving the frequency or severity of migraines with those diets.”
- Consider seeing a dietitian. “Weight loss in general is helpful in preventing migraines, and we sometimes refer people to a dietitian for that,” Berks says. Though, again, this is not to implement a specific “migraine diet.”
Patients very commonly report that environmental factors, such as diet or meteorological changes, provoke or aggravate a migraine.
The most commonly reported food triggers are: chocolate, cheese, coffee or other caffeinated drinks, nuts, citrus fruits, processed meats, additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame (an artificial sweetener), fatty or salty foods, and alcoholic drinks (usually red wine and beer).
Other triggers include: bright or flickering light, motion, loud sounds, strong odours (especially perfume, but also paint and smoke), changes in weather (atmospheric pressure), fatigue or lack of sleep, stress, hormones (especially around the time of period for women), skipping meals and some medications. These triggers do not universally apply to all migraine sufferers.
By identifying the factors that trigger your migraine attacks you can work out what lifestyle changes you can make to help cut down on the number of migraines you experience.
A headache diary can be very useful in determining what triggers your migraines and how your effective your current treatment is.
for tips on managing migraines.
About 20% of patients with lupus have migraine-like headaches. The following list outlines a program designed to mitigate such headaches. This list is taken directly from a handout prepared by Dr. David Buchholz, MD.
Foods to Avoid:
- Caffeine: Coffee, tea (hot or iced), cola; even decaf coffee and tea may be a problem; try caffeine-free herbal tea
- Cheese: Avoid all cheeses except American, cream, and cottage cheese. Avoid cheese-containing foods such as pizza and macaroni-and-cheese.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Chinese restaurant food, many snack foods and prepared foods, Accent and other seasoning products; MSG may be labeled as hydrolyzed vegetable/soy/plant protein, natural flavorings, yeast extract, Kombu, “broth,” “stock,” and others; read labels – note: “hydrogenated” is OK)
- Certain Dairy Products: Yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk.
- Nuts: All, including nut butters (e.g., peanut butter)
- Processed meats: Those that are aged, canned, cured, marinated, tenderized, or contain nitrates or nitrites; includes hot dogs, sausage, bacon, salami, bologna
- Alcohol and vinegar: Especially red wine, champagne, and dark/heavy drinks; vodka is best tolerated; white vinegar is OK
- Citrus fruits and juices: No oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, pineapples, or juices from these fruits. Vitamin C and citric acid are OK
- Certain other fruits: Avoid bananas, raisins, red plums, canned figs, and avocados.
- Certain vegetables: Avoid lima, fava, and navy beans, and pea pods, sauerkraut, and onions.
- Certain bread products: No yeast-risen bread products less than one day old – such as those from bakery, doughnut shop, or home
- Aspartame (Nutrasweet)
Over-the-counter Medications to Avoid
- Caffeine-containing medications: Excedrin, Anacin, etc.
- “Sinus”/decongestant medications: Actifed, Sudafed, Dimetapp, Sine-Aid, Dristan, and all other “sinus” and cold products that contain decongestants; plain antihistamines without decongestants are OK
- The migraine prevention program may not be maximally effective until you have been on it for at least 1 month. Caffeine withdrawal may be associated with temporarily increasing headaches.
- In some cases, this dietary program alone may not adequately control migraine symptoms. In such cases, avoidance of certain other medications (e.g., birth control pills) and addition of migraine-preventive medication may be advisable.
- Even if you take migraine medication, you should follow this program. Without this program, migraine-preventive medication may not work to its full potential.
- You should strictly follow this program until your migraine symptoms are adequately controlled. Then, you may wish to ‘experiment’ with an item you have been avoiding, one item at a time, so that you can assess its individual effect on your symptoms. If eating or drinking an item is associated with recurrent symptoms, you should continue avoiding that item. Dietary triggers can act 1-2 days after consumption.
- Take a high-potency multivitamin daily.
David Buchholz, MD. “Migraine (Headache) Prevention Program.” 2001.
Headaches and Food
What foods and drinks are thought to trigger headaches in susceptible people?
First, it’s important to note that most of the information about possible food triggers of headache come from patient self reports and not from randomized scientific studies. Despite the lack of science, the most common foods and drinks reported to be potential headache triggers include:
- Aged cheese (blue cheese, brie, cheddar, English stilton, feta, gorgonzola, mozzarella, muenster, parmesan, swiss)
- Alcohol (red wine, beer, whiskey, Scotch, and champagne are the most commonly identified headache triggers)
- Peanuts, peanut butter, almonds, and other nuts and seeds
- Pizza or other tomato-based products
- Potato chip products
- Chicken livers and other organ meats, pate
- Smoked or dried fish
- Pickled foods (pickles, olives, sauerkraut)
- Sourdough bread, fresh baked yeast goods (donuts, cakes, homemade breads, and rolls)
- Brewer’s yeast found in natural supplements
- Bread, crackers, and desserts containing cheese
- Most beans including lima, Italian, pole, broad, fava, navy, pinto, snow peas, garbanzo, lentils, and dried beans and peas
- Onions, garlic
- Certain fresh fruits, including ripe bananas, citrus fruits, papaya, red plums, raspberries, kiwi, and pineapple
- Dried fruits (figs, raisins, dates)
- Soups made from meat extracts or bouillon (not homemade broth or bouillon cubes that do not have MSG or “all natural preservatives” on the label)
- Canned soups
- Cultured dairy products, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt
- Caffeinated beverages, including coffee, tea and colas
- Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners
- Nitrate/nitrite-containing meats including hot dogs, sausage, bacon, lunchmeats/deli meats, pepperoni, other cured or processed meats
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) containing products including soy sauce, meat tenderizer, Asian foods, and a variety of packaged foods. MSG is an often disguised ingredient; also look for these common aliases: monopotassium glutamate, autolysed yeast, hydrolysed protein, sodium caseinate
How common are food triggered headaches?
Only about 20% of headache patients are thought to be food sensitive.
How do I determine which foods and drinks are my headache triggers?
One common suggestion for figuring out your own personal headache triggers is to track the foods and drinks you consume in a daily food headache diary. You may consider yourself to be sensitive to a certain food or drink if you get a headache consistently 20 minutes to 2 hours after eating that certain food.
However, keep in mind that even though it sounds simple to track what you eat to try to figure out what foods and beverages might trigger your headache, it’s not this simple.
Problems with food headache trackers
Is it truly the food or drink that is causing your headache or is it one of the many ingredients or chemicals in these foods? Foods consist of many ingredients that contain many chemicals. Chemicals include nitrates/nitrites, phenylethylamine, sulfites, tannins, tyramine, salicylates, aspartate, added sugar, alcohol, caffeine, gluten, glutamate and capsaicin to name a few.
Even beyond consumed foods, drinks and ingredients/chemicals are other factors that must be considered that may complicate identifying the true trigger of your headache. These factors include:
- Have you had a recent change in headache medication or dose?
- Did you miss/skip a meal or eat earlier or later than usual?
- Are you staying well hydrated or do you think your intake of fluids was lower than typical before the headache started?
- How many hours of sleep did you get the night before the headache?
- What physical activity were you doing before the headache occurred?
- Did any stressful events occur before the headache started?
- What stage of the menstrual cycle (hormonal changes) were you in when the headache started?
- What was the weather like before your headache started? (weather triggers may include bright sunlight, high humidity, stormy weather, high humidity for example)
- Do you have a family history of headache?
With so many complicating factors, what’s the best approach to reduce my chance of getting a headache?
Being aware of foods, drinks and most importantly, the ingredients and chemicals that have been reported as headache triggers can be a helpful tool, a good starting point. Keep in mind that headache triggers vary from person to person. Also understand that pinpointing a headache trigger goes far beyond food/drink products that may have been consumed in the hours or even days before the headache started. So many other factors influence the occurrence of a headache.
So then, what can you do to lower your chance of headache? The best approach may be to begin to control known influencers of headache. A family history of headaches is something you cannot control. However, getting a good night’s sleep, not skipping meals, drinking enough water to stay hydrated, and exercising regularly are some of the other things you can control.
As far as foods, drinks, and ingredients are concerned, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try to figure out if one or more food items (or ingredients) might be triggering your headache. Eliminate one item at a time over weeks or months and record this information in a headache diary. Only cut out a food if you have a high suspicion it causes headaches, otherwise you might remove foods you enjoy! In this diary, also track other factors that occurred within 24 hours of the headache (did you eat on time, skip meals, experience a stressful event, stage in menstrual cycle etc). With all of this information in hand, you can begin to sort out and discover for yourself the factors that provoke your headache.
Final advice about reducing the chance of any foods being headache triggers:
- Eat a well-balanced healthy diet full of vegetables, fresh foods, and low fat protein.
- Avoid processed (packaged) foods.
- Do not miss meals.
- If you do not recognize what is on the label, it is probably best not to eat it.
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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 doesn’t 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.
“Food can affect different people in different ways,” says Reisdorf. “There isn’t one list that works for everyone. For example, we all have that one friend who eats whatever he or she wants yet never gains weight. But, it goes deeper than just weight. Different foods can trigger a variety of symptoms depending on the person. It’s not totally clear why this is, but it is believed to be a combination of how food interacts with our genes and the microbes that live in our gut, triggering different responses in different people”
Why Does Food Trigger Migraine?
Doctors and researchers don’t know the exact cause for migraine. Most doctors agree that when brain activity briefly changes, it can lead to an attack. What prompts these changes is not entirely clear. However, numerous studies, have found potential links to certain environmental and behavioral factors that are consistent enough in migraine patients to be considered triggers. This includes certain foods that seem to cause migraine attacks in about 10% of the migraine population.
Research indicates that certain elements in food such as sulfites, nitrites, histamine, phenylethylamine, and tyramine are have a significant role in migraines caused by food. It is believed that these foods and elements in them affect certain migraine phases by prompting the release of norepinephrine and serotonin. This can elicit several responses, all of which can cause headache or migraine:
- The blood vessels dilate (vasodilatation), causing the blood pressure to decrease
- The blood vessels constrict (vasoconstriction), causing the blood pressure to increase
- Directly stimulate the brainstem, trigeminal ganglia, and cortical neuronal pathways.
Therefore, it stands to reason that when these foods or food additives are eliminated from the diet, the head pain will not be triggered, thus allowing the patient to avoid or prevent food triggered migraine.
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, it’s 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.
Trigger List: Foods
Foods that trigger migraine include:
- Alcohol (mostly wine and beer, but all alcohol can be a trigger)
- Broad Beans (most varieties of fava beans)
- Citrus fruits: lemon, line, orange, grapefruit
- Coffee (even decaffeinated coffee has very small amounts of caffeine)
- Dairy products: buttermilk, whole or skim cow’s milk, yogurt, cheese, goat’s milk
- Fatty foods
- Grapes and grape juice
- Meat (especially meat that has been cured or processed: deli meats, bacon, smoked meat, cold cuts, hot dogs, franks)
- Nightshades: potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, red bell peppers
- Nut butters
- Processed foods: TV dinners, frozen meals, shelf stable heat and serve foods, canned meat, canned vegetables, snack foods
- Sugar (usually withdrawal from sugar, but overindulgence in sugar can also be a trigger for some people)
- Wheat products (pasta, bread)
Trigger List: Additives
Additives that trigger migraine include,
- Artificial flavors
- Aspartame: NutraSweet, Equal (found in almost all diet soda)
- Caffeine (caffeine is rarely a trigger and is often used to stop a migraine attack – caffeine withdrawal can cause migraine if you don’t drink it in the same amounts every day)
- Casein (dairy)
- Malted barley (used in beer and breads)
- Natural flavors
- Gluten (wheat)
What You Should Know about MSG
MSG is a well-known migraine trigger and is found in a number of foods, many of which you may not even be aware. What many people don’t realize is that glutamic acid is a naturally occurring amino acid that is found naturally in most foods. It is essential for life.
There are two types of glutamate. Bound glutamate which is bound to other amino acids. It is whole, unmodified and the body digests and absorbs it slowly. Then there’s free glutamate which is not bound to amino acids making its absorption rate much faster. Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a synthetic form of free glutamate that is added to most processed and manufactured foods. Basically, it makes food taste better, more savory. The problem is, this synthetic glutamate has contaminants and unwanted, even harmful byproducts that can seriously impact your health.
MSG is found in so many foods that unless you are eating clean and only choosing fresh foods (that means eliminating most canned and many frozen foods as well as all processed foods) you will find it extremely difficult to avoid. It is used at many buffet restaurants and is notorious for being used at many Asian or Chinese restaurants. What you may not know is that it is in many prepared salad dressings, commercial spices and spice blends, cured meats, cured cheeses like Roquefort and Parmesan, soy sauce, just about any prepared or processed food, and many store bought broths (including bone broth).
MSG is not included on the nutrition label, so you really don’t know how much you are getting. The only thing you can do is read the ingredients list for any of these names for MSG: monosodium glutamate, yeast extract, calcium caseinate, monopotassium glutamate, gelatin, autolyzed yeast, whey protein (both isolate and concentrate), carrageenan, soy protein (both isolate and concentrate), maltodextrin, corn starch, citric acid, corn syrup, milk powder, corn starch, modified food starch, broth, bouillon, soy sauce, and textured protein. Anything that is “hydrolyzed” contains MSG, as do flavorings (even the natural ones). The closer it is to the beginning of the list, the more that food contains. However, it is best to avoid it altogether.
Pain Safe Foods from the Migraine Diet
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has created the Migraine Diet, a vegan based plan that is designed to help prevent migraines and minimize migraine pain. They have compiled a list of pain safe foods that almost never contribute to migraines:
- Rice – brown rice preferably, but white rice is good too
- Cooked or steamed green vegetables – spinach, collards, broccoli, and Swiss chard
- Cooked or steamed orange vegetables – sweet potatoes and carrots
- Cooked or steamed yellow vegetables – summer squash
- Dried or cooked non -citrus fruits – cranberries, prunes, cherries, pears (avoid apples, peaches, bananas, citrus fruits, and tomatoes)
- Water – plain or carbonated (avoid coffee, soda, and tea which may be triggers – even herbal tea)
- Condiments – vanilla extract, maple syrup, limited amounts of salt
Eating Habits that can Trigger Migraine
Your body needs consistency. It needs regular meals to avoid fluctuations in blood sugar. It needs regular sleep, exercise, diet, everything. When you deviate from the norm, that is when you run into problems. A late night, having a few drinks, or skipping a meal can all make you more susceptible to a migraine attack. Eating regular meals and snacks – about every two to three hours apart – will help keep your blood sugar stable and can help keep your migraines at bay.
Food Intolerances are not Necessarily Triggers
Food intolerance and migraine trigger are not the same. A food that is a migraine trigger actually sets the process in motion that causes a migraine. A food intolerance produces chemical changes and a migraine is the body’s response to that chemical change. Migraines tend to be susceptible to any physiological, chemical, or biological change in the body. The food sensitivity is not the reason for the migraine; the migraine is simply a symptom or by product of it. If you avoid a food, you are sensitive to you will likely still have migraines because that was not the trigger. It was just an underlying condition that included migraine as a symptom. You will still need to find your actual migraine trigger.
Elimination Diet for Identifying Food Triggers
Everyone is different, and everyone’s migraine is different. Some people have a long list of foods that trigger migraine while others can eat virtually anything without experiencing the slightest twinge of pain. A universal list of food triggers does not exist, leaving people to conduct their own research to identify the foods that trigger them. To further complicate matters, the amount of a triggering food that you are able to tolerate can change over time.
“Elimination diets work by getting rid of any potential migraine trigger for at least 72 hours or sometimes even 30 days. This lets the body to kind of ‘reset’ and allows you to figure out exactly what is causing the problem.”
Reisdorf recommends the elimination diet to determine which, if any, foods trigger your migraine. Basically, that means removing all known foods that trigger migraine from your diet for a couple of weeks, then slowly reintroducing them one at a time to identify any foods that may be causing your migraine.
“I would recommend starting with the top foods that cause migraines: alcohol, chocolate, caffeine, soy, nitrates, natural/artificial flavors, MSG, and maybe even gluten,” she says. “Avoid those foods for at least two weeks. Then introduce them back into your diet, one at a time, waiting 72 hours or more between each introduction. Food sensitivities can take 72 hours to show up, so a new food should only be added back every 3 days. During that time, take notes of how you feel. This will help you figure out what you can eat and what you can’t.”
This diet may mean that you endure a couple of months of simple, maybe even dull by some people’s standards, meals. In the end, though, it can mean more migraine free days. However, it isn’t just about what you can and can’t eat. It doesn’t mean that if a food is a trigger you have to completely remove it from your diet.
Reisdorf explains, “Sometimes it can be about amount too. So maybe you can tolerate a cup of coffee but two sets you off.”
Properly completing the elimination diet can take six to eight weeks, sometime longer, but most people find it worth the time and work because it allows them to identify specific foods that trigger migraine.
“It will take a while to go through this process but at least you will have a more clear cut answer and not be required to eliminate everything that could possibly be a trigger,” says Reisdorf. “Once the elimination diet is complete, you will know exactly what foods are triggers for you, so you can zero in on those that are a problem, instead of eliminating all possible triggers. The main benefit is that after the elimination phase your diet will include more variety.”
You can use your migraine diary to track your foods and migraines while you are on the elimination diet. Take copious notes and be as detailed as possible. Make sure that you document everything including time of day you ate the food, how much, specific type, and brand name. For instance, if you are trying cheese, you want to note the time of day you ate it, how much you ate, the type of cheese, and what brand. This is because composition of many foods changes from brand to brand.
You should also note any environmental factors such as temperature, type and intensity of lighting in your area, stress level, your location (work, school, home, etc.), and other details. Note who you were with, your mood, the more information you can record, the better. You want a complete picture so that when you go back and look for trends, you have a broad range of information on influential factors.
Reisdorf also recommends talking to your doctor and requesting to be referred to a registered dietician while you are on the elimination diet. A dietician can help you through the process and help ensure that you are maintaining a balanced diet. It is very common for doctors to dismiss diet as a significant factor in migraine management, or they take a one size fits all approach and advocate cutting out all potential migraine triggers. If you are planning to do the elimination diet, it is important to inform your doctor. They should also be made aware of any dietary supplements that you are taking.
The Role of Anti-Inflammatory Foods in Migraine
Anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce inflammation and decrease pain in your body – including migraine. There are many foods on the list, even some that are also on the list for foods that trigger migraine. But that is why the elimination is so helpful.
The Arthritis Foundation has published a list of inti-inflammatory foods. When you make these foods a major part of your diet, you may enjoy other health benefits in addition to potentially preventing migraines. Your blood pressure will lower (which can also help prevent migraines) and it will help prevent chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even certain cancers. If you have arthritis, it can help reduce or prevent inflammation and flare ups. You will have a healthier heart and stronger joints. You may even drop a few pounds which can also help the other conditions.
“Anti-inflammatory foods help reduce inflammation, a condition that may be the underlying cause of almost all chronic diseases,” says Reisdorf. “Some anti-inflammatory foods include many fruits and veggies and fish.”
The Arthritis Foundation’s anti-inflammatory foods list includes:
- Fish – particularly fatty fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, and mackerel. 3-4 ounces twice a week.
- Nuts and Seeds – walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, and almonds. 1.5 ounces (about a handful) daily.
- Fruits and Veggies – kale, cherries, kale, blueberries, spinach, and broccoli – rule of thumb, the darker or more brilliant color the fruit or vegetable has, the more antioxidants it contains. Most vegetables, at least nine 1 cup servings or 2 cups of raw leafy greens every day.
- Olive Oil – extra virgin olive oil, but other good sources include avocado and walnut oils. 2-3 tablespoons daily.
- Beans – red kidney beans, small red beans, and pinto beans. 1 cup twice a week.
- Whole Grains – foods that are whole grain, made with the entire kernel of the grain such as oatmeal, whole wheat flour, brown rice, bulgur, and quinoa. 6 ounces per day. 1 ounce whole grain is 1 slice whole wheat toast or ½ cup brown rice, cooked.
You may have to avoid some of these foods due to intolerance, sensitivity, or they may be triggers for you. In some cases, you may be able to tolerate smaller amounts without any problem.
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 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.
Resources for People Exploring their Food – Migraine Relationship
There are many sites, forums, and groups online where people with migraines can get support as well as more information on foods that trigger migraine and the elimination diet.
- Chronic Migraine Support Group – Facebook
- The Elimination Diet – Facebook
- Food Triggers for Migraine – Healing Well Forum
- Migraine Forum – Patient.info
- Migraine Team Forum – SparkPeople
References and Resources (Yes, we did our homework): 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.
Migraine Food Triggers
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. There’s 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 don’t 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 won’t 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.”
Drinking alcohol of any kind can bring on a migraine attack in some people. Others only have problems with red wine or certain beers. Red wine contains tyramine and sulfites, two ingredients frequently identified as migraine triggers. The different grains used and a fermentation process that raises tyramine levels may explain the triggering effects of certain beers. Alcohol also lowers serotonin levels in your brain and can cause dehydration—and both can trigger attacks.
Some studies refute the idea that these additives trigger migraines, but the consensus seems to be that certain additives affect subgroups of migraine sufferers.
- Preservatives – Nitrates and nitrites found in processed meats (bacon, hot dogs, ham, etc.) and sulfites found in red wine.
- Artificial sweeteners – Sucralose (Splenda® and others) and aspartame (NutraSweet®).
- Food coloring – Yellow dye #5 and #6, red dye #40 and possibly others.
- Flavor enhancers – Monosodium glutamate, or MSG.
Once thought to be a trigger, chocolate cravings are now thought to be a signal that a migraine attack has begun and the headache will soon appear.
Citrus contains a compound that raises the concentration of certain hormones in the blood. A small percentage of people may be especially sensitive to the compound’s effects.
Caffeine is a mixed bag. Some find it to be a trigger, others find that a cup of coffee or a medication containing caffeine helps stop migraine pain. Many people also find that sudden withdrawal from caffeine brings on headaches.