For years, migraine and headache sufferers, at the advice of their physicians, have tried to keep track of the root triggers of their migraines and headaches. While there is no one cause for migraines or headaches, especially when it comes to diet, keeping track of what we eat can help lower the likelihood of the onset of migraine or headache. Let’s take a look at the different common food triggers for headaches and migraines, as well as some dietary tips that can help. There are a variety of different “migraine diets” that focus on a variety of known dietary triggers and tips.
How Can You Tell If a Certain Food Or Drink Is a Headache Trigger?
Typically, beverage or food that is a headache trigger will cause a headache within 10 to 12 hours, but no longer than 24 hours. One way that you can check to see if a food or beverage causes headaches and migraines is to limit your consumption of it for a period of time, such as 4 to 6 weeks. Charting your consumption of food and beverages over a month’s time frame can also help you see patterns with the onset of headaches and migraines.
How Do Sweeteners Impact Headaches and Migraines?
If you regularly drink diet soda, use sweetener in your tea or coffee, or eat foods that are sugar-free, but use sweeteners such as aspartame, you might have a slight increase in your level of headaches. In fact, monthly consumption of diet soda can contribute to an increased frequency of migraines and headaches. The mechanism behind sweetener-induced headaches is not entirely understood, but reducing it will help decrease the frequency of severe headaches.
Why Does MSG Cause Headaches?
Chinese food is a common source of MSG. MSG is a food additive that is commonly found in a wide variety of foods for added flavor. MSG has been linked with several different disorders, including obesity and metabolic disorders. MSG-triggered headaches are not totally understood, but it is believed that MSG can release nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels within the brain. An MSG headache will be pulsing, often on both sides of the head and will frequently be agitated by physical activity, all of which fits into the criteria of migraine. If you want to avoid MSG, you can eat whole foods that have been flavored with natural herbs and spices. On food labels, MSG is often hidden as other names including glutamate, natural flavor, and partially hydrogenated vegetable protein.
What Are Some Other Foods That Will Cause Headaches?
Chocolate has been shown to cause headaches in some individuals and can also be a migraine trigger. Around 20% of people who have experienced a migraine or a headache might identify chocolate as a trigger. The headache and migraine inducing ingredient in chocolate is beta-phenylethylamine.
Cured meats, like the ham you get at the deli, can cause headaches because of the preserving agent used in them. Nitrates, the preserving agent, are used to preserve color and flavor. As with MSG, this agent can cause blood vessel dilation in the brain, which is believed to be one of the reasons cured meats can trigger headaches or migraines. Aged cheeses also have an ingredient that causes headaches. Tyramine forms in cheese as proteins break down and this agent can also cause headaches.
Additionally, salty foods, fermented foods, and pickled foods can contribute to headaches because of the preservatives they contain.
Foods That May Have a Positive Impact on Headaches and Migraines
If you are experiencing headaches or migraines, you might want to incorporate some healthier foods into your diet. Everything from leafy greens to fish can improve the headache and migraine cycle. Leafy greens contain several different ingredients, like iron, that enrich blood flow and can help with headaches. Fish contain omega 3 fatty acids, which can reduce the frequency of headaches and are discussed more here.
Why Are Headache Diets Helpful?
Keeping track of what you eat and linking it to your headache and migraine patterns can be helpful. Not only does it let you identify food and beverages that may contribute to headaches and migraines, but you are more likely able to track triggers if you can identify them within a 24 hour period.
Headache diets may also have a therapeutic effect. Identifying what causes headaches and migraines is a weapon in the arsenal that lets headache and migraine sufferers know that they have control over their headaches and migraines.
What Are Some Tips For Starting a Headache Diet?
There are some things that may help you if you wish to start a headache diet:
- For a period of a few weeks, keep track of food and drink that is consumed right before the onset of a headache or migraine.
- For a period of four to six weeks, eliminate the food and beverages of concern to see if they are triggering your headaches.
- If no change happens or the change is minimal, the food may not be associated with your headache or migraine.
- In addition to tracking foods and beverages, also track other factors in your life, such as sleep issues, your menstrual cycle, or other factors.
- Once you feel as if you have identified the culprit from your headaches or migraines, eliminate that food over time.
What Are the Benefits of a Healthy Diet?
Not only will diet changes help with headaches and migraines, but they will also improve your overall health. Reducing fat intake will have a positive impact on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Additionally, a healthy diet can reduce the likelihood of other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, that can have headaches as a secondary effect.
Will I Still Need Migraine Treatments?
Whether you can identify migraine triggers or not (remember, migraine doesn’t necessarily require a trigger), you will still have occasional migraines that break through regardless. Therefore, you should still be armed with an abortive treatment option. Abortive options include NSAIDs, ergots, triptans, neuromodulatory devices, the ditans (Reyvow (Lasmiditan)) and the gepants (Ubrelvy (Ubrogepant) and Nurtec ODT (Rimegepant)).
If the migraines are happening frequently enough, then a migraine preventive treatment should be considered. Preventive migraine treatments are used to lessen the frequency and/or severity of migraine attacks. Preventive treatments include a variety of daily pill medications, CGRP monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) (Aimovig (Erenumab), Emgality (Galcanezumab), Ajovy (Fremenazumab), Vyepti (Eptinezumab)), neuromodulation devices, Botox, Nurtec ODT every other day or Atogepant once daily, herbal and natural supplements and vitamins, yoga and meditation, and acupuncture and acupressure.
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