Why does popcorn give me a headache?

8 Foods That Trigger Headaches

There’s nothing like a pounding headache to make you seek refuge in a dark, quiet room and hide from the world. If you suffer with chronic headache pain, you have great company. More than 45 million Americans have chronic headache pain from migraine, tension, or cluster headaches.

Women suffer headaches more frequently than men, perhaps because of variations in the brain chemical called serotonin, which plays a role in pain and depression. When levels of the hormone estrogen plummet, levels of serotonin change as well.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common headaches include:

  • Tension headache
  • Migraine (with or without aura)
  • Cluster headache
  • Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia (TAC), cluster headache and paroxysmal hemicranias

Whether you suffer with migraines, tension or sinus headaches, or headaches from arthritis or jaw pain, all headaches have one central thread that weaves them together: inner or outer triggers cause the body to react with pain that’s felt in the head. These triggers may stem from foods, tobacco, chemicals, stress, environment, or your hormones, among other things, and may vary from one person to the next.

If you get headaches after eating, they may be triggered by food. Certain foods, such as alcohol, chocolate, and caffeine, have been identified as common migraine triggers. “It is not unusual at all for food to trigger migraines or other types of headaches,” says Noah Rosen, MD, director of the Headache Institute at North Shore–LIJ Health System in Great Neck, New York. There are a few classic foods that trigger headaches in many people, but many different foods can trigger headaches for certain individuals. That’s why following a migraine diet or keeping a food diary to document your headaches is a good idea.

Migraine or vascular headaches are often caused by dietary triggers. Go through the following list of foods and try to identify the ones that affect you and your headache pain, and avoid those foods that are bothersome. The National Headache Foundation lists the following foods that may trigger migraines or headaches and should be avoided:

  • Ripened cheese, such as cheddar, Emmentaler, Stilton, brie, and Camembert (permissible cheeses include American, cottage, cream cheese, and Velveeta)
  • Pickled or dried herring
  • Chocolate
  • Anything fermented, pickled, or marinated
  • Sour cream (have no more than ½ cup daily)
  • Nuts and peanut butter
  • Sourdough bread, breads, and crackers containing cheese or chocolate
  • Broad beans, lima beans, fava beans, and snow peas
  • Foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), including soy sauce, meat tenderizer, and seasoned salt
  • Figs, raisins, papayas, avocados, and red plums (have no more than ½ cup daily)
  • Citrus fruits (have no more than ½ cup daily)
  • Bananas (have no more than ½ banana daily)
  • Pizza
  • Excessive amounts of tea, coffee, or cola beverages (limit to 2 cups daily)
  • Sausage, bologna, pepperoni, salami, summer sausage, and hot dogs
  • Chicken livers and pate
  • Caffeinated beverages should be limited to 2 6-ounce brewed cups of coffee per day or the equivalent in tea. Do not exceed 200 milligrams (mg) caffeine each day.
  • Alcoholic beverages (if you do drink, limit yourself to two normal-sized drinks)

“It starts as a hot pain behind your eye and builds to a crescendo until you can’t stand light, noise or even the slightest touch. You just want to die for a while,” says Jane Yeager, a Pennsylvania woman in her 50s. When a migraine hits, she utters her silent wish for temporary death while lying in a pitch-black room with cool washcloths over her eyes.

Migraine headaches are a whole dimension beyond regular headaches, which are content to do their dirty work above your neck. Migraines start in your head, but a blistering attack wages war on your whole body, causing severe throbbing head pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, cold hands, tremors and sensitivity to light and sound. They can hang on for a few hours but often last more than a day.

Like a nuclear missile, some migraine headaches send out a “red alert” warning signal before they launch their attack. It’s called an aura. Some experience this aura as flashing lights, multiple small dots, zigzagging lines or areas of total darkness and tingling or numbness in an arm or leg. Other symptoms include strange odors, restlessness, hallucinations, confusion and speech impairment.

Migraines are largely hereditary, so you’re more susceptible if your mom or dad had them. And you’re also more likely to get them if you’re a woman, since women are three times more susceptible than men.

For the migraine-prone, lots of things can set off an attack—changing hormone levels prior to menstruation or during ovulation, poor eating or sleeping habits, stress, chemicals in food (including additives and preservatives) or low blood sugar. Even changes in the weather or moving to a higher altitude can prompt the onset of migraine.

What causes that initial spasm is still a mystery, but the reaction seems to be related to a brain chemical. “We know that the neurotransmitter serotonin plays a large role in triggering migraines,” says Alan Rapoport, MD, co-founder and co-director of the New England Center for Headache in Stamford, Connecticut, and assistant clinical professor of neurology at Yale University School of Medicine. “In fact, most of the newer migraine medications work primarily by stimulating the brain’s serotonin receptors.”

Fingers Off The Triggers

Although people who experience frequent attacks may have to take preventive medications, others can waylay migraine attacks by making lifestyle changes, especially in their diet, say experts. To head off migraines, you should fill up on whole, natural, unprocessed foods, especially vegetables and grains, they say.

“You can prevent migraine headaches at least 40 percent of the time just by making dietary changes,” says Frederick Freitag, DO, associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago. But to do that, you have to avoid food triggers as well as eat healthfully. Some foods that are known to trigger migraines are wine, cheese, onions, tomatoes and nuts.

While it’s not known why some of these foods trigger migraines in some people, chemical culprits have been found in others. Among the chief troublemakers are substances called vasoactive amines.

Avoid Amines

For some, a hot fudge sundae studded with walnuts is a midsummer night’s dream. For migraine sufferers, however, this mouthwatering treat can be a nightmare. Chocolate, along with many other common foods, contains an amine called phenylethylamine, which can cause your blood vessels to constrict, then dilate, triggering a headache.

Scientists believe that the worst of the amines is tyramine, an amino acid found predominantly in strong, aged cheeses and foods like pickled herring and liver. If you get migraines, you’ll also have to watch out for homemade yeast breads and alcoholic beverages like wine and beer, say headache experts. All of these foods–as well as the pods of lima beans and snow peas—contain the dreaded amines.

“Alcohol is actually at the very top of the list of food factors that affect the most people with migraine,” says Dr. Rapoport. “It is a vasodilator, meaning that it expands blood vessels, which can trigger migraine. Chocolate may be the second biggest offender.”

Surprisingly, even citrus fruits and juices can trigger migraines in people who are particularly sensitive to a food factor in citrus known as synephrine.

Nix the Nasty Nitrites

Many cured meats contain nitrites, chemicals that are added to salt when curing meats. Unfortunately, nitrites also cause your blood vessels to dilate, setting the stage for a migraine.

Head pounders caused by nitrites are commonly called hot dog headaches, because the worst offenders are meat and meat products like hot dogs, bacon, ham and salami. But remember, these head-thumping chemicals are found in many other preserved meats as well. If you want to lower your risk of an onslaught of migraine, doctors agree that you should go for fresh meat instead of preserved products.

Brew Some Relief

Ah, Saturday! A day to thumb your nose at the alarm clock, curl up, sleep in and awaken with an eye-popping headache! At least, that seems to be the story for many of the people who are prone to migraines.

Noticing that a certain segment of such people got most of their attacks on their days off, researchers investigated their caffeine-drinking habits. Sure enough, they found that those who had headaches on their days off consumed more than twice as much caffeine daily and slept in later on weekends than those who didn’t have weekend headaches.

By sleeping in, the migraine group delayed their first caffeine fix of the day by a couple of hours. But that delay alone was enough to trigger a withdrawal headache. “If it isn’t a migraine, it acts and feels just like one,” says Dr. Freitag.

Actually, caffeine has different effects on migraine, depending upon how much you’re used to: Excessive caffeine—more than one or two cups a day for those who get migraines—can trigger headaches. But if you’re not a regular caffeine consumer, one cup can go a long way toward providing migraine relief.

“Caffeine constricts the dilated blood vessels around your temples,” says Dr. Rapoport. “It also increases the efficacy of pain medication. That’s why it’s in most headache medications.”

Just Say No to MSG

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) may bring out all those wonderful subtle and spicy flavors in wonton soup, but if you’re one of the many people who are sensitive to this flavor enhancer, it might also bring on a whopping headache.

Like other headache triggers, MSG launches its attack by dilating blood vessels and exciting certain nerves in the brain. Often people who get headaches from MSG have other symptoms as well, such as feelings of pressure in the neck and face, sweating, tingling in the fingers and abdominal cramps. These symptoms are so common that they’ve been dubbed the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” If you get headaches and other symptoms from this aggravating additive, ask for your food to be prepared without MSG or seasoning salt (which contains MSG) the next time you’re ordering Chinese.

Although it can cause headache in anyone, MSG also can trigger migraine, says Dr. Rapoport. “We think MSG is toxic to the brain and actually triggers the electrical dysfunction in the brain that starts the migraine process.”

Mineralize Your Migraine

For some people, low-magnesium levels may trigger a head-pounding bomb. In one study, researchers found low-magnesium levels in a full 4% of 60 migraine sufferers. While experts expect that such shortages are just one component of migraines, they see no harm in upping your intake of magnesium rich foods, such as whole grains and seafood, as a preventive measure.

MORE: How To Decode Your Headache

Why Do You Get Headaches After Eating?

Headaches after eating occur with a variety of pain levels and have several possible causes.

Some people notice that their post-food headaches are especially bad after eating certain foods, or consuming sweets or carbs. Still, others notice a pattern of headaches after every meal.

There are several possible reason for these headaches. Here’s some of the most common:

Postprandial hypoglycemia

Also called reactive hypoglycemia, this condition is characterized by a headache within 4 hours after eating. It’s triggered by a drop in blood sugar levels. Some causes include:

  • diabetes
  • digestive tumors
  • abnormal hormone levels

Food allergy

You may believe that an allergy always carries symptoms similar to allergic rhinitis — such as sneezing or a runny nose — but that’s not always the case. In fact, food allergies can cause a host of reactions, including headaches.

If you’re experiencing headaches after eating a specific food or ingredient, it’s possible that you may be allergic to a food and be unaware of the allergy.

Food intolerance

Different than a food allergy, the symptoms of a food intolerance are almost always digestive in nature. However, in some instances, they can trigger a headache after eating.

TMJ disorders

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your lower jaw (the mandible) to the portion of your skull (the temporal bone) in front of your ear.

TMJ disorders are generally characterized by a popping or clicking sound, or a tight feeling on either side of your jaw when opening and closing your mouth. Because the affected joint is so closely tied to your head area, chewing can also trigger pain and cause a headache.

Cold stimulus

This type of headache is commonly known as a brain freeze or “ice cream headache.” It occurs after eating or drinking something frozen or very cold.

Experts believe it happens due to changes in the blood vessels around certain nerves, in response to cold temperature. This type of headache can be intense, lasting seconds to minutes, but doesn’t require any treatment.

25 Oct Low-Tyramine Diet for Migraine

Posted at 17:16h in Headache Fact Sheets by headache

Tyramine is produced in foods from the natural breakdown of the amino acid tyrosine. Tyramine is not added to foods. Tyramine levels increase in foods when they are aged, fermented, stored for long periods of time, or are not fresh.

Meat, Fish, Poultry, Eggs or Meat Substitutes


  • Freshly purchased and prepared meats, fish, and poultry
  • Eggs
  • Any allowed items that are canned or frozen

Use with caution

  • Any with nitrates or nitrites added

Avoid if on MAOI

  • Fermented sausages: pepperoni, salami, mortadella, summer sausage, etc.
  • Non-fresh or improperly stored meat, fish, poultry or pickled herring
  • Limit processed meats to 4 oz. per meal
  • Limit tofu or tempeh to 10 oz. per day



  • Milk: whole, 2 percent, or skim
  • Fresh cheese: American, cottage, farmer, ricotta, cream cheese, mozzarella, Velveeta, or other processed cheese, etc.
  • Soy milk
  • Soy cheese

Use with caution

  • Aged cheeses

Avoid if on MAOI

  • Cheddar cheese
  • Limit other aged cheeses to 4 oz. per meal, e.g. blue, brick, brie, cheddar, Swiss, roquefort, stilton, parmesan, provolone, emmentaler, etc.
  • Limit any combination of aged cheese and processed meats to total of 4 oz. per meal

Breads, Cereals, and Pasta


  • All breads, biscuits, pancakes, coffee cakes, etc.
  • All cooked and dry cereals
  • All pasta: spaghetti, rotini, ravioli, macaroni, and egg noodles (with allowed ingredients)



  • All except on caution section (including dried beans, except fava or broad beans)

Use with caution

  • Raw onion

Avoid if on MAOI

  • Fava or broad beans, sauerkraut
  • Limit fermented soy products like miso, soy sauce, and teriyaki sauce to 1 oz. per day



  • All except on caution section

Use with caution

  • Limit intake to 1/2 cup per day from citrus types: orange, grapefruit, tangerine, pineapple, lemon, and lime



  • Soups made from allowed ingredients, homemade broths



  • Decaffeinated coffee or tea, club soda, caffeine-free carbonated beverages

Use with caution

  • Limited caffeinated beverages to no more than two servings per day (less than 200 mg total)
  • Consult with your physician and pharmacist regarding alcoholic beverages

Avoid if on MAOI

  • No more than two domestic bottled or canned beers or nonalcoholic beers
  • No more than 4 oz. wine per day
  • No tap beers

Desserts and Sweets


  • Any made with allowed foods and ingredients: sugar, jelly, jam, honey, hard candies, cakes, and cookies

Use with caution

Ingredients Listed on Food Labels


  • Any not listed in the caution section

Use with caution

  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites
  • Sulfites
  • Aspartame

Fats, Oils, and Misc.


  • All cooking oils and fats
  • Commercial salad dressing with allowed ingredients, vinegars
  • All fresh nuts and seeds
  • All spices and extracts not listed in restricted ingredients

Avoid if on MAOI

  • Concentrated yeast extract, i.e. Marmite or Vegemite

General guidelines

  • Eat three meals each day with a snack at night or six small meals spread throughout the day
  • Avoid eating high sugar foods on an empty stomach, when excessively hungry, or in place of a meal
  • All food, especially high protein foods, should be prepared and eaten fresh. Be cautious of leftovers held for more than one or two days at refrigerator temperature. Freeze leftovers that you want to store for more than two or three days
  • Cigarette and cigar smoke contain a multitude of chemicals that will trigger or aggravate your headache. If you smoke, make quitting a high priority
  • The foods listed in the “Caution” column have smaller amounts of Tyramine or other vasoactive compounds. Other foods in the “Caution” column do not contain Tyramine but are potential headache triggers
  • Each person may have different sensitivities to a certain level of Tyramine or other vasoactive compunds in foods
  • If you are not on an MAOI medication, you should test the use of foods in the “Avoid” column in limited amounts
  • If you are taking an MAOI medication, do not consume foods in the “Avoid” column. Consult with your prescribing physician for additional precautions

Adapted from the Saint Joseph Hospital and Diamond Headache Clinic Headache Diet

Which foods help prevent migraines?

Share on PinterestEating whole grains and fresh vegetables may 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 (MSG). 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 person’s 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:

Bread, grains, and cereals

Foods to eat:

  • most cereals, except for those containing nuts, dried fruits, or aspartame
  • plain or sesame seed bagels
  • quick bread, such as pumpernickel or zucchini bread
  • most plain pretzels and potato chips
  • unflavored crackers, such as saltines or Club crackers
  • white, wheat, rye, or pumpernickel bread from a store

Foods to avoid:

  • flavored crackers, such as cheddar cheese crackers
  • fresh bread that is homemade or from a grocer’s bakery
  • pizza, as it is also a fresh bread
  • highly flavored or seasoned chips
  • soft pretzels

Meats, nuts, and seeds

Foods to eat:

  • fresh beef, chicken, fish, lamb, pork, turkey, or veal
  • poppy seeds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • sesame seeds
  • sunflower seeds without natural flavors

Foods to avoid:

  • beef and chicken livers
  • breaded meats
  • marinated meats
  • flavored popcorn
  • nut butters

Salad dressings and sauces

Foods to eat:

  • homemade dips that use fresh ingredients without artificial flavorings
  • homemade ranch dressings
  • oil and distilled white vinegar salad dressings

Foods to avoid:

  • bottled salad dressings
  • pre-packaged dips, such as salsa, alfredo sauce, or mustard dips

Many bottled salad dressings and pre-packaged dips contain additives and preservatives that can trigger migraines. Additives to avoid include MSG, nitrites, and aspartame.

Aged cheese and red wine vinegar may also contribute to migraines, so it is best to limit their consumption.

Vegetables and fruits

Foods to eat:

  • fresh fruits
  • fresh vegetables
  • preservative-free bagged lettuce

Examples of vegetables to eat include peppers, zucchini, fresh potatoes, carrots, and cauliflower.

Foods to avoid:

  • boxed instant mashed potatoes
  • dried fruits containing sulfite preservatives
  • citrus fruits
  • lima beans
  • navy beans
  • onions
  • sauerkraut

Some fruits may also contain pollens or other compounds, and these can cause a histamine release that could trigger a migraine. Examples include bananas, oranges, grapefruits, raspberries, and plums.

Other prevention tips

Eating several small meals throughout the day can also help maintain steady blood sugar levels and prevent hunger, which can trigger migraines in some people.

A nutritious approach to the diet can help a person maintain a healthy weight too. According to the American Migraine Foundation, being overweight can make migraines more likely or worsen their symptoms.

Getting a headache after eating is not unusual. However, it is not something people can or should ignore. The symptoms can be uncomfortable enough to impact a person’s life in a significant way.

Getting a headache immediately after eating could feel like pressure between the eyes, throbbing on one side of the head, or a tight feeling across the forehead. Each type of sensation could be due to a different source. A headache after eating could also be a symptom of a medical condition. In many cases, people get headache and nausea after eating, and require medical attention to properly diagnose and treat their condition.

Constant headaches should not be ignored. They can lead to sleeping problems, stress, and depression, as well as the use of chemical substances.

Some headaches are triggered by foods. For instance, there are people who get a headache after eating sugar. Others experience headache following the consumption of salty foods. It is not always food though. Sometimes, it can be a combination of food and an underlying medical condition.

Hypoglycemia, which takes place when blood glucose levels drop below normal range, can be a problem for some people. Rice and some fruits that contain carbohydrates are sources of glucose. Reactive hypoglycemia occurs from insulin overproduction followed by the release of the stress hormones. In this case, after eating, the pancreas releases too much insulin, reducing blood glucose levels. The adrenal glands react and boost the blood glucose levels. There is also something called hypoglycemia unawareness. This is when people with type 1 and 2 diabetes have no warning signs of low blood glucose.

Causes of headache after eating

If you experience headache after eating, you should not jump to conclusions. It could be related to what you are eating, but then again the trigger may not be directly linked to food. Here are some possible causes of headache after eating.

Hypertension: High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common problem. About 70 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure. A high salt intake has been known to lead to headaches in those who have high blood pressure. This is due to the fact that excess salt draws water into the blood stream, increasing blood volume and triggering an increase in blood pressure.

Food allergy: Sometimes the immune system sees certain foods as threat and releases histamines in the blood. This is an allergic response that can lead to headaches or swelling and hives.

Food intolerance: Not to be confused with food allergies, food intolerance is when people can’t tolerate a certain substance in food, such as lactose or gluten. For some people who are sensitive to these foods, the reaction is stomach pain or diarrhea, but for others, it can be headache.

Diabetes: If you suffer from diabetes and eat something sweet, you can trigger a headache. Sugary foods cause a sudden rise in blood sugar levels, which release insulin. Insulin increases the absorption of sugar into our cells, which can lead to hypoglycemia. This sugar crash causes dilation of blood vessels in the brain, triggering a headache.

Migraines: While we can’t say for certain why, some people get migraine headaches from foods that contain tyramine, such as sour cream, yogurt, and buttermilk. There are other foods that are common migraine triggers, including chocolate, cured meats, soy sauce, and citrus fruits.

Gastric reflux: When acid seeps upward into the esophagus and towards the throat, this is called acid reflux. Eating certain foods, including fried or spicy foods, increases acid in the stomach leading to reflux. Many people who have gastric reflux complain about headaches.

Medical conditions: In some situations, a person might think that their headache is linked to the food they are eating, but it just might be something more complicated. Trigeminal neuralgia is one possibility. This is a headache that occurs after eating when you suffer from diabetes. Another possibility, although it is rare, is a brain tumor.

You have likely heard people say, “I have a brain freeze,” jokingly. Well, there is, in fact, something called brain freeze. It is a temporary headache and sharp sensation that disappears within a few minutes and is usually due to consuming drinks or foods that are very cold. Of course, this is not serious and can be easily avoided.

Home remedies for headache after eating

Some people who suffer from headaches after eating turn to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat their pain. Those who experience migraines can be prescribed beta-blockers or even antidepressants once the symptoms start. However, there are more natural remedies that have been found to bring relief.

Here are some examples of home remedies for headaches after eating:

Biofeedback: Electronic sensors monitor body functions and data fed back to the patient through sound and computer images to help teach the patient how to control responses such as tight muscles, heart rate, etc., for preventing headache.

Acupuncture: Needles are inserted under the skin to improve energy flow. Some studies show that acupuncture can be effective is preventing acute migraines.

Neck stretches: Muscle tension can add to the pain of a headache, so doing muscle stretches can be helpful when symptoms are starting to surface.

Aerobics: Brisk walking, swimming, and cycling have been known to reduce the frequency and severity of headaches for some people. Some women experience headache after eating during pregnancy, and aerobics is considered safe for them.

Gentle massage: If you can locate the optical nerve and gently massage the back of the head, as well as the base of the skull, it can bring headache relief.

Cold compress: Applying a cold compress to the affected area of the head can be helpful in cases of the throbbing headache.

Meditation: Meditating can level off blood pressure, which is why it can help with headaches. This is something that is easy to do in your own home or you can join a meditation class.

Lavender oil: This oil has a calming effect and has been used by many people who suffer from headaches. Some people put drops of lavender into boiling water and inhale the steam, or they apply the oil right on their temples.

When to see a doctor for headache after eating

There are cases when the headache trigger is obvious. For example, you may be in tune with the fact that every time you eat a certain food you get a headache. Simply avoiding that food will prevent the painful occurrence. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple. For some people, multiple foods can be the trigger, making it more difficult to track. In other cases, as we have established, it isn’t just food that is the trigger, and there may be a need to seek medical help.

You really need to consider seeing a doctor if home remedies and even painkillers aren’t helping relieve the discomfort. If your headaches seem to be getting more frequent or are getting worse, you should seek medical attention. When you experience any of the following symptoms along with a headache, it is important to get to a doctor:

  • Changes in vision and speech
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fainting
  • Confusion
  • Numbness on one side of the body
  • Trouble walking
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • High fever

Living with constant headaches can be difficult to manage. For many people, there is no quick and easy fix. It can take a lot of trial and error to discover what will bring you the most relief. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Since there are many treatment options, you are bound to find something that will work to ease the pain or eliminate the headaches all together. It is also important to not suffer in silence. Use the medical community and resources around you to help you cope. For example, the Cleveland Clinic has a long list of resources for people who suffer from headaches. The National Headache Foundation is another source for information on headaches, including triggers and support.


The importance of blood-glucose

We need energy to function, and most of this energy comes from consuming carbohydrates (sugars). Our bodies convert these carbohydrates into glucose (which is easier to use), and is then carried in the blood to whichever parts of the body need it. The brain requires a continuous supply of glucose from the blood in order to function, and if glucose levels drop (as in hypoglycaemia) the brain is one of the first organs affected.

Maintaining blood-glucose levels

Our bodies have to keep their blood-glucose levels from becoming too low or too high, and they do this using two fast-acting hormones: insulin and glucagon. When blood-glucose levels get too high, insulin acts to bring them down; when levels get too low, glucagon pushes them back up.

Causes of hypoglycaemia

If we don’t eat enough calories for our bodies’ needs, then our blood-glucose levels drop too low. This can happen if we skip meals, fast, diet, or exercise on insufficient food. Eating a high-sugar meal can cause ‘reactive hypoglycaemia’, because the sudden rise in blood-glucose from the sugary food triggers an over-production of insulin, which in turn makes the blood-glucose levels fall too low. If diabetes patients inject too much insulin into their bodies, it can also cause their blood-glucose levels to fall too low.

Symptoms of hypoglycaemia

The brain not receiving enough glucose causes most of the symptoms of hypoglycaemia, which include: headache, migraine, confusion, nausea, sweating, faintness, and hypothermia. If the hypoglycaemia is very severe and prolonged, it can even cause loss-of-consciousness and death, although this is rare.

Hypoglycaemic headaches and migraine

Fasting, eating high-sugar foods, dieting too rigorously, and skipping meals can all trigger, or make people more likely to have a headache or migraine. Even delayed or irregular meals can make a difference. This is usually due to people’s blood-glucose levels falling too low.

Headaches produced from going without food are often quite severe and accompanied by mild nausea. There is also a similarity between some of the symptoms of missing a meal and the early warning signs (premonitory) of a migraine attack, such as: yawning, pallor, sweating, headache, a craving for sweet things, and mood changes.

Headaches and migraine attacks caused by fasting may not always be due to hypoglycaemia, for example they can be caused by the stress-hormones released by the body during fasting. They are also often triggered by dehydration and lack of sleep. Changes in caffeine intake, for example by drinking less tea or coffee, and changes in smoking frequency also often trigger headaches and migraines.

Hypoglycaemia tests

A prolonged glucose tolerance test, which measures your ability to process sugar, can be used to determine if you are hypoglycaemic. In this test, you will be given a measured amount of sugar to eat, and then your blood-glucose levels will be monitored over several hours. Alternatively, a tiny sample of blood can be taken while you are unwell, and your glucose level measured from that.

Treating hypoglycaemic headaches and migraine

If your headaches/migraines appear to be triggered or exacerbated by low blood-glucose levels, you should be able to keep them under control by paying close attention to your diet. Small, frequent, low-sugar meals are ideal. Make sure you never miss breakfast or skip meals, and if you usually have sandwiches for lunch try having proper meals instead. If you have lunch early, have an afternoon snack so you don’t get hungry.

If you have hypoglycaemic headache that starts when you wake up, it can sometimes be prevented by having breakfast cereal last thing at night. This should be of high-fibre to prolong the glycaemic effect.

Also, try and improve the quality of your food by eating a balanced diet with more unrefined foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, and cut down on cakes, biscuits, ice cream and anything which makes you consume large amounts of sugar over a short period of time. Also, it may help to add more protein to your diet, and try to avoid flavoured, or pre-cooked foods. The naturally-occurring sugars in unrefined food are digested much more slowly than those in refined food, which means that glucose is released into the bloodstream more slowly, and so is less likely to stimulate the over-production of insulin that leads to hypoglycaemia.

If you are dieting, plan to lose a smaller amount of weight over a longer period of time. This is a better way to diet, since it is easier to keep the weight off once you’ve finished.

Stress and alcohol can both interfere with your metabolism, so it is important to make time for relaxation and sleep, and be careful how much alcohol you drink. Caffeine can also have an effect so gradually cut down on tea, coffee, chocolate, and other caffeine-containing products (e.g. Red Bull, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper).

These simple adjustments can make a real difference to the frequency and severity of your headaches or migraines if they are triggered by hypoglycaemia, and your doctor can also help you find ways to treat them.

Headaches and migraines can often be caused by several different factors, and some people require a combination of treatments which address each factor, to effectively manage their condition.

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Migraine Diet: Eat to Minimize Your Migraines

Eat to Minimize Your Migraines

How what you eat can affect your headaches

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic – Expert Column

The worst headache you could possibly imagine? That would be the description of a migraine.

If you don’t personally have migraines, odds are that you know someone who does.

So can what and how you eat and drink really help to improve your migraines? Thankfully, yes.

While stress is considered the No. 1 migraine trigger, food and beverages may be responsible for up to 30% of migraines, according to some estimates. If you consider that some other migraine triggers can have a connection to diet (things such as hormonal changes, stress, sleeping habits, and depression), it’s possible the percentage is actually higher.

Your diet can affect your headache risk in two ways:

  • Certain foods are thought to trigger headaches.
  • Dietary habits, like skipping meals and not drinking enough fluids, may also play a role.

What happens when migraine sufferers learn more about their food triggers and change their diets accordingly? In a recent study, headache patients were given one hour or more of diet counseling by a registered dietitian, who discussed things such as dietary triggers for headaches and label reading. The patients later reported a significant reduction in the number of migraines per week. At the same time, they reported they were consuming fewer migraine-trigger foods.

A Complicated Relationship

The more you learn about migraines and diet, the more you realize how complicated the relationship is. First off, “a suspected food may not be a trigger 100% of the time,” explains Frederick Freitag, MD, of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago.

Here are some of the complicating factors:

  • Often, foods are triggers only when they are combined with other triggers. For example, they may act as triggers only when stress or hormonal changes are also at work.
  • Whether you get a migraine from a food or beverage may depend on how much you consume. You might not have a problem with a small amount of cheese or wine, for example. But it might be a different story when you enjoy a larger portion.
  • You may not get a headache for several hours to several days after eating a trigger food. This makes it harder to find the connection between migraines and certain foods or beverages.

Most-Wanted List of Migraine Triggers

Why do some foods cause migraines? Certain substances in food may cause changes in blood-vessel tone, bringing on migraines in susceptible people. Some experts believe an allergic-type reaction may occur; others say that’s not likely.

Either way, it’s a good idea to know what the possible offenders are so you can eliminate them from your diet to see if it helps. It’s a good idea to start by charting your consumption of these items and any headache response.

Here is my list of the five most likely culprits.

1. Chocolate. Some who suffer from migraines list chocolate as a possible trigger food. Some neurologists say it is a migraine trigger because it contains the amino acid tyramine (see No. 4). But the connection could be that women tend to crave chocolate during stress and hormonal changes, both of which also may trigger headaches. The amount of chocolate can be an issue, too. Experiment to see if you can eat a small, but satisfying amount of chocolate without triggering a headache.

“A study found that migraine patients with the diets highest in fat tended to have more frequent headaches.”

2. Caffeine. Both too much and too little caffeine have consistently been shown to trigger migraines. Cutting out caffeinated beverages may help your headache situation. The good news is that decaffeinated options abound.

3. Red wine/alcohol. Researchers used to suspect that wine was a headache trigger because it contains the amino acid tyramine (see below). But newer research shows that phytochemicals called phenols, which are found in red wine, may be the real triggers. For some people, drinking any kind of alcohol can bring on a migraine. Other compounds in beer, whiskey, and wine that deplete levels of serotonin (“the happy hormone”) in the brain could also be triggering migraines.

4. Tyramine. Tyramine is an amino acid that has been thought to trigger headaches by reducing serotonin levels in the brain and affecting the dilation of blood vessels. Some experts now doubt that tyramine-containing foods are important triggers, because their connection to migraines is based on older research. But, just in case, we’re including them in our most-wanted list. Tyramine may be found in:

  • Aged cheeses
  • Red wine
  • Alcoholic beverages, such as beer
  • Some processed meats
  • Avocados
  • Overripe bananas
  • Chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Pork
  • Venison
  • Soy-based foods

5. Food additives such as nitrites/nitrates and MSG. Some consider certain food additives, including nitrites/nitrates and MSG (monosodium glutamate), to be common headache triggers. These additives may increase blood flow to the brain, causing headaches in some people.

Another Reason to Avoid a High-Fat Diet

Believe it or not, changes in the level of certain fats circulating in your bloodstream coincide with the triggering of migraine headaches. The bottom line is that you want to lower the levels of blood lipids and free fatty acids in your bloodstream — and you can do this by eating a lower-fat diet.

A study showed that migraine patients with the diets highest in fat tended to have more frequent headaches than those with lower-fat diets. Cutting fat intake led to significant decreases in headache frequency, intensity and length, as well as the amount of medication these patients took.

What to Drink and Eat During a Migraine

Freitag has four-step plan he recommends to his patients. If you have already vomited or are extremely nauseated, follow these steps:

Step 1. Drink clear soda (regular 7-Up, Sprite, or ginger ale — this is not the time for diet drinks) that has been allowed to go flat (leave it in an open glass for half an hour). Drink no more than 1/2 ounce at time. Do this every five minutes for the first hour.
Step 2. If you’re tolerating that, start drinking 1 ounce of the flat soda every five minutes for the next hour.
Step 3. If this works, you may consume clear liquids as tolerated.
Step 4. After four hours, you may add soft, non-fat foods (maybe something like bananas or applesauce). Eat no more than 4 ounces in 15 minutes. And for the first 24 hours, eat solid foods no more often than every four hours. Consume no dairy products or fats for 24 to 48 hours. If vomiting recurs at any point, rest for one hour, then go back to Step 1.

10 Things that Might be Causing your Headaches

  • Excess Abdominal Weight. There is an undeniable link between excess fat and headaches. A 2003 study found that obese participants were more likely to get chronic daily headaches. This is because fat cells produce chemicals called cytokines which trigger inflammation, a stimulator for headaches and migraines. Following a healthy diet can be 80% of your weight loss plan—again, you can take our Lifewatchers course to find out about this!
  • Triggers. Often, headache and migraine triggers are individual and personal for each person. But there are a few common ones that have been shown to trigger headaches. Avoiding things like MSG, sodium, caffeine, colour additives, chocolate, and alcohol can really help you eliminate your pain. Try eliminating these items from your diet and slowly reintroducing them (just like food allergies) to see if they might be a trigger for you!
  • Low Antioxidant Levels. Antioxidants are phytochemicalsthat decrease inflammation and compensate for cellular damage caused by environmental toxins and free radicals. Without proper removal, free radicals cause oxidative stress and can trigger frequent headaches. You can enjoy antioxidant-rich foods like berries, tomatoes, dark leafy greens, beets, oregano, dill, rosemary, turmeric, peppermint, and omega-3 fatty acids to help raise your antioxidant levels!
  • There are many other things that might be causing your headaches, including sinus congestion, weather changes, environmental conditions, tight hair accessories for women, or a more serious condition. It is always a good idea to check with your doctor if you are concerned about your headaches or migraines and learn how they are affecting you. The above checklist is one way you can evaluate your symptoms and triggers and see if you can change your lifestyle to decrease your headaches and migraines.

    Interested in learning more? We will be posting another piece on natural solutions to relieve headaches and migraines later this week that will take you through natural remedies that you can try instead of NSAIDS or over-the-counter medications. Join our email list here to get this and other great content. Stay tuned!

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