Migraines can affect a large part of a migraine sufferer’s life so it is important that they are aware of anything that can potentially trigger a migraine attack. (You can learn more about different types of migraine, their causes, symptoms and treatments here). We have discussed other causes of migraines including genetics and the environment, but there is another potential trigger…our diet. This idea is based on accounts from individuals who have noticed that they suffer migraines after eating certain foods.
Those who suffer from migraines should eat a well-balanced diet which includes all the colours of the rainbow to ensure that you get all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need. This means eating a wide range of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains and lean proteins. (Here are what you should and shouldn't do when you have migraine)
Potential food triggers
The following foods are believed to cause migraines. It is important to note that not all “trigger foods” will trigger a migraine. A person’s response to a trigger is unique to them. Below is a list of foods known to be more problematic to migraine sufferers. Also, if you are pregnant, this article might be helpful.
Caffeine is well recognized cause of migraine. (Study) It should also be noted that caffeine withdrawal can also trigger headaches. Approximately 47% of habitual coffee drinkers have a headache after not drinking coffee for 12 to 24 hours. The best course of action is to gradually reduce your caffeine intake over a period of a few weeks. In some cases immediately quitting highly caffeinated beverages may be the best course of action.
After consuming meats like sausages, ham and bacon around 5% of those who suffer from migraines will experience an attack shortly after. Scientists believe that additives present in these meats are the culprits. (Study). These are called “hot dog headaches.”
Studies show that about 9 to 18% of people affected by migraines showed sensitivity to cheese, specifically aged cheese. Scientists say that the high level of tyramine (a compound that forms when bacteria break down amino acids during the aging process) is to blame. This is present in other fermented foods as well but is very high in aged cheese. (Study 1) (Study 2).
These are used as flavor enhancers, preservatives and food colouring. Many migraine sufferers report sensitivity to food additives and this link has been documented by various migraine associations. These include MSG, nitrates/nitrites, tyramine, etc. (Study)
About 29 to 36% migraine sufferers reported having an attack within 3 hours of consuming alcohol. And it appears that some types of “alcohol “are worse than others. Red wine for example appears trigger more migraines than other types of alcohol. (Study)
How to spot a trigger food
The best way to find a potential food trigger is to test the suspected migraine triggering foods one by one. Doctors recommend that you do this by keeping a food journal to track what you eat, and write down any headache symptoms you experience. Next exclude one food that could potentially cause a migraine attack from your diet for one week. For example; avoid eating any processed meats for that week and record any symptoms you experience (or lack thereof). If nothing changes then it is likely safe to reintroduce this food back into your diet.
Please note that it can take up to 24 hours for any symptoms to appear.
Foods that can help prevent Migraines
Fresh fruits and vegetables – These are fresh and therefore will not have preservatives like nitrates that we mentioned above.
Fresh, lean meats – for the same reason we recommend fresh fruits and veggies, the lack of preservatives that can potentially trigger a migraine.
Plain, unflavoured breads, crackers and grains – the natural and artificial flavours present in some of these products can do more harm than good when it comes to migraine sufferers. Breads with rye and pumpernickel are usually ok for you to have but according to the American Migraine Foundation you should try to avoid anything with too much yeast present. (Article)
It is also important to that you eat several balanced meals per day as hunger or missing meals can trigger migraines. In addition to eating well and often enough, there is a diet recommended by some doctors for sufferers of chronic migraine pain. According to Dr. Vincent Martin, President of the National Headache Foundation “there are also what we call comprehensive food diets where patients forget about identifying the triggers: you just go on a comprehensive, healthy diet that tends to relieve migraine headaches.” This diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids (found I fish, seeds, and oils) but low omega-6 fatty acids and has been proven to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks in chronic migraine patients. (Article)
While migraines can be tough to handle, and you can feel out of control, there is a lot you can do with your eating habits to help put you back in control. Also, having supportive people around you is super helpful. You never know when you would really need a hand, learn how to forge strong and sustainable relationships when having migraine.