If you suffer from regular migraines, you might already have a list of causes you take precautions against. But migraine headaches can be caused by different factors – even foods. Different types of food can be known to trigger migraines due to the makeup of the food.
Sometimes, even food that is often encouraged for a healthy lifestyle can set off someone’s migraine. A migraine can sometimes be hard to avoid, but knowing what types of food can set one off is a good starting point. Everyone is different, so keep track of what you eat when a migraine occurs.
Before we dive into the foods to avoid, let’s look at a quick overview of these headaches.
What Is a Migraine Headache?
Migraine headaches are a common neurological disorder that affects approximately 1 billion people worldwide. Those who suffer often have recurring episodes of moderate to severe pain, accompanied by other symptoms such as sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting. Migraine headaches can be debilitating, often causing individuals to miss work or school and significantly impacting their quality of life.
Researchers do not fully understand the specific causes, but most believe they result from genetic and environmental factors. Studies suggest migraines may be triggered by changes in brain chemicals, particularly serotonin, and changes in the trigeminal nerve, which transmits pain signals from the head and face. Other factors that may trigger migraines include stress, hormonal changes, sleep disturbances, and certain foods and beverages.
Migraine Headache Symptoms
The primary symptoms of a migraine headache include moderate to severe pain, typically located on one side of the head. Many describe the headache as pulsing or throbbing, lasting several hours or even days. In addition to the pain, individuals may experience sensitivity to light and sound, which can exacerbate their discomfort. They may also experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision, and difficulty concentrating.
Some individuals may experience warning signs before the onset of a migraine headache. These may include mood changes, irritability, and increased thirst or hunger. Others may experience symptoms after the headache passes, such as fatigue, confusion, and weakness.
Diagnosing Migraine Headaches
A healthcare professional can diagnose migraine headaches based on a patient’s symptoms and medical history. Treatment options may include over-the-counter or prescription medications, lifestyle changes such as stress management and dietary modifications, and alternative therapies such as acupuncture and massage. It is essential for individuals who experience frequent or severe migraine headaches to seek medical attention to determine the best course of treatment and to manage their symptoms effectively. With proper management, individuals with migraine headaches can reduce the frequency and severity of their episodes and improve their overall quality of life.
5 Foods That Can Cause Migraine Headaches to Flare Up
1. Alcohol and Wine May Cause a Migraine
Alcohol of any type can trigger a migraine. After all, alcohol can give regular, pounding headaches to people who don’t suffer from migraines. However, the most common type of alcohol that is often the cause of migraines happens to be dark liquors and red wines. Alcohol contains high levels of the amino acid tyramine, a known cause of headaches.
Alcohol also causes dehydration, which is why you’re encouraged to drink water throughout the night when you go drinking to avoid a hangover. But dehydration is another key trigger for a migraine. If you’re often struck with migraines after a glass or two of wine, you might want to cut it out of your diet entirely.
2. Chocolate Can Cause These Headaches
As delicious and varied as it is, chocolate is another culprit in the foods known to trigger migraines. Chocolate contains tyramine, which is a known cause of many migraines. Chocolate cravings often occur during women’s hormonal changes, such as menstrual cycles.
With the body already unbalanced, introducing high levels of thymine can set off a migraine. If you notice that your pain comes more often when you get a chocolate craving, you might need to find a substitute or eliminate it.
3. Artificial Sweeteners May Trigger a Migraine
There’s already been plenty of pushback against artificial sweeteners in recent years, and this could be another one. Aspartame is the name of a widely used artificial sweetener, and it’s often found in low-calorie desserts and diet sodas. It’s also sold as a replacement for sugar.
Unfortunately, this artificial sweetener is known to trigger a migraine. It’s best to skip artificial sweeteners altogether. They’re not as slimming for you as you think, and they may also be responsible for triggering a painful migraine episode. Skip the sweeteners, and go for the real deal if you’re craving something sweet.
4. Fast Food May Cause Headaches
Everyone loves a quick burger and fresh fries from the drive-through. Unfortunately, even your favorite value menu item could cause your pain. MSG, sulfites, and nitrates are food additives used to increase the shelf life of foods, which are often all used in fast-food restaurants to keep your food fresh and delicious.
This may be costing you, though. These particular additives are known to trigger migraines. Many types of seasoning can also contain many of these same additives, so be careful where you get your quick meals.
5. Salty Food (High Sodium) May Cause These Headaches
Along with fast food, food with high levels of salt might be the culprit behind debilitating migraines. Sodium is a mineral that our bodies need to keep going. Unfortunately, we’re often getting way more than we need due to the amount of sodium put into prepackaged food.
Higher than necessary levels of sodium often work hand-in-hand with food additives, making eating those types of food a hair-trigger for migraines. Keep an eye out for the labels of your quick snacks, and ensure you do not intake more sodium than necessary.
Final Thoughts on Avoiding a Migraine Headache by Removing Those Foods From the Menu
Everyone is different, but these foods can famously trigger migraines in many people. If they work for you, great! If not, you’ll want to think about changing your diet.
Vincent Martin, MD, a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, said, “Persons with headache and migraines have more dietary options than ever. Ultimately a healthy headache-free diet excludes processed foods, minimizes caffeine, and includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, fish, and lean meats. After all, you are what you eat.”
Keep an eye out on everything you eat and whether or not those types of foods tend to trigger. There’s lots of variation in lifestyle and food between people. Everyone has different genetics. Your body can give you subtle signals about what is best for you.
By the way, we’d love to hear from you. If you have noticed another food triggering a migraine headache, let us know in the comments. Take care!