Migraine is a type of headache best known to occur with symptoms such as nausea, sensitivity to light and vomiting. The pain also happens on one side of the head and may last from few hours and can continue for few days. There can be many different things that can trigger migraine including what we eat and drink. Migraine triggers can be hormonal, emotional, physical, environmental, medicines or they can be linked to your diet. If yours is linked to a dietary trigger this would mean you must either minimise its consumption or completely stop eating or drinking it. Here in this article we will talk about few food that trigger migraine.
Why food causes migraine?
Exact cause of migraine is not known but they are thought to be the result of abnormal brain activity temporarily affecting nerve signals, chemicals and brain vessels in the brain. As per research though it is known that dietary triggers influence migraine but the underlying reason is not clearly known. Further research is required to establish the appropriate reasoning.
If you experience migraine you can try to maintain a journal and make use of elimination diet. Elimination diet requires identification of provocative dietary ingredients and their subsequent elimination from diet. To identify the dietary triggers an individual can keep a food journal to understand foods that trigger their migraine.
Food that trigger migraine
Though there is no universal trigger for migraine there are certain foods that are known to influence migraine in many. Here is a list of few foods that trigger migraine.
Aged cheese are well known triggers for migraine. This is due to a natural compound called Tyramine which is found in aged protein rich foods such as cheese. Not all types of cheese would fall under this category due to procedure followed in making them. Following type of cheese are known to trigger migraine and hence if aged cheese are a trigger for you then you may want to stop their consumption to improve your condition –
- English stilton
Caffeine is known as one of the key triggers for migraine for many. Caffeine food such as Tea, Coffee and soft drinks such as Coke etc contain Caffeine and may be causing you those headache episodes. The best idea would be to lower your Caffeine intake rather than cutting it down completely. It is the higher caffeine intake that is responsible for migraine and having tea, coffee etc in moderation should be fine.
As per American Migraine Foundation episodic migraine patients should limit caffeine intake to less than 200 mg. This would translate to a cup or two of Caffeinated drinks. If you get a daily migraine it would be a good step to stop Caffeine intake completely and check if this improves your condition. In case you do not see any improvements in few months time, Caffeine may not be the cause of your headaches.
Common food and drinks that are high in Caffeine are –
- Soft Drinks such as Coke, Pepsi etc
Note – According to research Caffeine in limited amount may be helpful with the migraine pain. Since it is one of the most popular active ingredient in different food products it is very easy to consume it daily in large quantity. High intake of Caffeine can affect its benefits in pain relief and can easily become a trigger for migraine.
Tyramine is a naturally occurring substance found in many foods. Tyramine is an amino acid and is generally considered safe. It may however elevate your blood pressure and heart rate which can be a health concern.
Tyramine is naturally produced by the breakdown of an amino acid called tyrosine and is present in fermented food as well. Also, foods that have been stored at room temperature, rather than being refrigerated or frozen, can have rising levels of tyramine
Eating frozen food such as ice cream or cold beverages may trigger migraine attack. Eating frozen food especially during hot summer days, exercise or too quickly can give you a stabbing migraine headache. On eating frozen food the actual reasoning of what causes the pain is not clearly known. However, this could be due to direct stimulation of temperature-sensitive nerves and cold effect on blood vessels running along the palate.
Therefore it is advised not to eat frozen food too quickly or immediately after exercise especially if you have history of such headaches in past.
Processed or Cured Meat
Processed or Cured Meat contain nitrates/nitrites from preservatives. Preservatives are added to preserve colour and flavour of meats so they appear fresh and tasty for a longer period of time. A study shows that this could be due to the increase of Nitric oxide in the blood stream.
Red wine is known to cause migraines however it is just any alcohol such as Beers, Hard liquors, Prosecco, Champagne that can very well give you a bad headache. This has been evidenced by a 2018 study in the European Journal of Neurology where alcoholic beverages were reported as trigger by 35.6% participants and 77.8% participants reported red wine as the trigger.
Many people get headache just after having one or two drinks. Alcohol is known to mess with chemicals and nerve vessels in your brain to give you a severe migraine episode.
In case your migraine is influenced by Alcohol you may want to cut down on it or completely stop to avoid migraine episodes.
Chocolates are another known to trigger migraine attacks. According to American Migraine Foundation migraine approx 22% people are affected by migraine due to Chocolates. Chocolate contains both caffeine and beta-phenylethylamine, which may trigger headaches in some people. Caffeine is already known as one of the main triggers for migraine.
Many people find relief from pain by eating something sugary such as sweets or chocolates in moderation. Since your blood sugar has direct impact on headaches it should be consumed in moderation only.
Artificial sweeteners, or sugar substitutes, are chemicals added to some foods and beverages to make them taste sweet. They are often referred to as intense sweeteners. This is because they provide a taste similar to that of table sugar but several thousand times sweeter than normal Sugar. Most people use them for weight loss purpose as they are very low in Calories.
These artificial sweeteners especially Aspartame is known to cause migraine headaches.
Monosodium glutamate aka MSG is a flavour enhancer often used in many processed foods, Chinese food, vegetables and canned soups. MSG is a flavour enhancer derived from L-Glutamic acid and is naturally present in many foods. In the food industry it is known as E621.
MSG is considered safe to eat though few researchers believe it may be linked to migraine headaches though it could be due to presence of preservatives and other factors.
While there had been few studies conducted to confirm if Citrus fruits trigger migraine or not the results are not conclusive. There had been studies which found link between Citrus fruits while the others didn’t. While Citrus fruits are known for their health benefits you must observe and see if these may be a trigger for your headaches.
Salty processed food is known to be a trigger for migraine. Processed food contain nitrates/nitrites preservatives which can trigger migraine due to increase in Nitric oxide in blood. Salt is rich is Sodium which can increase the blood pressure and cause headache. If you get regular headaches it is always a good idea to get your blood pressure checked as it may be symptom for other health problems as well.
If you have high blood pressure it is a good idea to lower down your Sodium intake.
Treatment for Migraine
There are numerous Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that can help manage your migraine pain. Medicines such as Ibuprofen, Combiflame, Paracetamol, Disprin are known to relieve migraine pain. Having too many painkiller medicines may cause medicine induced headaches or rebound headaches. In certain cases doctors may also prescribe tripan medicines to relieve pain.
Antidepressants are also prescribed to prevent migraine symptoms even in those without depression. Other alternative remedies that can help with your migraine episodes include – Vitamin B12, Magnesium, Massage therapy, cooling oil or heating pads can help relieve pain.
Certain lifestyle changes can help you manage your migraines better. These include –
- If your migraine is triggered due to skipped meals, eating at regular intervals can help
- You may want to limit your Caffeine intake and going for alternate drink options
- Sleep deprivation is a known cause for headaches hence good sleep is essential to avoid migraine attacks
- Try to limit your digital activities or take regular breaks to avoid a migraine episode
- Elimination diet can be really helpful
- Exercise can help improve your overall health and avoid migraine attacks
While there had been multiple studies to identify link between diet and migraine and there appears to be some consensus that food along with other migraine triggers can be causing you bad episodes. There is no universal trigger for migraine attacks as a proper reasoning on why migraine happens is yet to be found.
Elimination diet is a good way to check on which food may be acting as a trigger for your migraine episodes. However you must take caution as removing certain food from your diet may also lead to malnutrition. Once identified reducing its consumption may be a good way to avoid migraine attacks but still maintain a good health. Always consult your doctor if you are going to make changes to your diet. Keeping a migraine journal to log your food and other factors can help you identify the triggers.