Migraine triggers caused by certain foods

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Migraine triggers caused by certain foods

There is no mistaking if you are having a migraine. The excruciating, throbbing head pain usually occurring on one side, extreme sensitivity to light, touch, sounds or smells, blurred vision along with nausea or vomiting can go on for hours.  The draining experience of one can be so exhausting that after the migraine has passed, a person may suffer from a “migraine hangover.”

It is estimated that 12 percent of Americans endure migraines according to the Migraine Research Foundation.  Almost one in four households has someone with migraine – up to 90% of migraine sufferers have a family history of this condition.

There are several medications that if taken once a person notices a migraine gearing up, that can halt the severe headache in its tracks. 

What sets off a migraine headache is usually referred to as a trigger – triggers can be anything that sets into motion of why a migraine develops.  What may be a migraine trigger for one person can be different for someone else.  Triggers are like a risk factor and there can be several factors that start a migraine attack.  Keeping a migraine diary can be useful for spotting patterns in what may be triggering a migraine.  Determining the cause of migraines can be helpful for reducing the number and severity of them.

Even though there is no universal triggers of what exactly causes a migraine, common ones can include lifestyle, environmental, weather-related, hormonal, and medications.  One other trigger that has been suggested to be migraine triggers in up to 30 percent of people is specific foods. 

Food triggers can differ from one person to the next and some food may become triggers only when combined with other triggers.  Here are some common foods that have been known to possibly be one part of the problem for with people who have migraines:

·      Caffeine

People who are sensitive to caffeine may be prone to developing a migraine after drinking coffee, black tea, green tea, cola soft drinks, or other caffeinated beverages.  But for some people caffeine can actually help stop a migraine from getting worse which is one of the reasons why many over-the-counter medications contain the substance.  If you believe caffeine could be a culprit, avoid it.

·      Alcohol

For those who find alcohol to be a trigger for migraines, may need to become more of a teetotaler.  Beer, wine, sherry, and vermouth contain large amounts of tyramine, one of the most powerful migraine triggers around.  Alcohol can also cause dehydration which is another major cause of migraines. 

·      Cheese

If you love cheese but hate your migraines, guess which one has got to go. Some migraine victims will find that the more aged the cheese, the worse their migraine is due to the high tyramine content they contain.  Tyramine is a natural compound that forms in protein-rish foods as they age.  Aged cheeses that could be triggering migraines include blue cheese, brie, cheddar, feta, mozzarella, Muenster, parmesan, and Swiss.

Other cheeses that might not have the same migraine-triggering effect include cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, cream cheese, and American cheeses. Unfortunately, yogurt, including frozen yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk are also potential migraine triggers.

·      Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits and their juices, as well as bananas and raisins may also need to be avoided. Dried fruit that is preserved with sulfites can also get a migraine going.

·      Aspartame

This artificial sweetener can result in migraines for some people.  Many diet beverages along with light yogurts, sugar-free candies, low-calorie desserts, and other foods may contain aspartame which is also known as NutraSweet and Equal.  Read the ingredient labels and avoid foods that contain it if aspartame is a migraine trigger.

·      Certain food additives

Chemicals added to food to enhance their flavor or help them stay fresh longer may bring on a headache.  These can include the following:

·      Nitrates and nitrites – These chemicals are preservatives often used for flavoring common foods may also be a migraine trigger for some people.  Hot dogs, deli meats, sausage, beef jerky, corned beef, and pepperoni all contain nitrates and nitrites.  Other food sources can include foods that have been cured, smoked, pickled, or canned.  To stay safe, look for nitrite-free varieties of these items at the grocery store and avoid them when possible.

·      MSG (monosodium glutamate) – The main ingredient in soy sauce and meat tenderizer, MSG can spark a migraine within 20 minutes for some people. It’s sometimes listed on packaged foods as “all natural preservatives” or “hydrolyzed protein.”

·      Aspartame – It’s unclear how this artificial sweetener, which is 150 times sweeter than sugar, causes headaches. More research is needed. If you consume foods artificially sweetened with aspartame and develop migraines, try avoiding them to see if your headaches are reduced. 

Another trigger theory is that histamines – most often related to allergies – may result in a migraine.  Foods rich in histamines include nuts, aged cheese, red wine, pickled foods, and smoked meats like salami.  The theory is that the enzyme needed to break down histamine is low or absent in some people who get migraines.  Some research suggests that vitamins C and B6 may increase the ability of the enzyme to break down histamine, potentially decreasing the risk for a migraine.

Whether a food or cluster of foods could be causing migraines for those who suffer from them remains to be seen.  But for anyone who keeps a migraine diary and who discovers a pattern that is associated with their food choices, should discuss this with their physician for further advice. 

Steps for holding off migraines

Here are some steps to try to help stave off a migraine after you eat:

·      Choose healthier foods – Eat as much wholesome, fresh food, like fruits and vegetables as you can.

·      Eat more “mini meals” – Instead of three large meals during the day, opt for 5-6 small ones. This will present you from getting a headache due to hunger.

·      Drink plenty of water – To stay hydrated, sip at least eight glasses of water each day.

·      Keep a ‘headache diary” – Track the foods you eat each day and the time you eat them.  If one is a trigger, the headache will likely hit 12-24 hours afterward.

·      Manage your stress – Feeling tense and worried may be enough to make your head throb. Regular exercise can give you a sense of control of your feelings. It can also help you lose extra pounds or stay at a healthy weight.

·      Go slow when trying to identify food triggers – Don’t cut everything out that might cause a headache at once. That will only make it harder to figure out which ones really do affect you. Instead, cut out one potential food trigger at a time. Keep track of how you feel over the next month. This can help you decide whether the food in questions is a problem or if you can safely start eating it again.