Many things can trigger a migraine attack ranging from stress, muscle tension in neck and head, chemical exposure, to what we eat and drink. But there is no such thing as a one size fits all blanket as migraine can be triggered by many factors and is always specific to each person suffering from this debilitating problem. Some foods though have been known to contribute overall to migraines, often with other factors combined to an increase in migraine attacks, and are best eliminated as they not only play a role here but also contribute to poor health overall, burdening our body.
So, let’s look at the foods we are talking about:
The effect of caffeine, plus the fact that caffeine is a neurotoxin and is one of the substances that is able to cross into the brain though the blood-brain barrier, is already an indication that it should be avoided when suffering from headaches and migraines. It has been reported that too much caffeine and also caffeine withdrawal can cause migraines and headaches. Caffeine is found in coffee, black tea, green tea, soft drinks, sports drinks as well as chocolate and other sweets.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
Many processed junk foods and sugar free products like soft drinks contain artificial sweeteners to add sweetness to the products. These have been linked to headaches and migraine episodes.
Alcohol is one of the substances known to trigger migraines and some studies showed that alcohol in general was a trigger in 35% of cases and red wine specifically in over 77% of the participants. Alcohol is a known neurotoxin and is again one of those substances that is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and cause poisoning in the brain and destroy brain cells. It is also known to cause dehydration which is also a major contributor to headaches and migraines. Another researched effect of alcohol is that it interferes with the ability to deal with and respond to stress which, through muscle tension in the neck, can again trigger headaches and migraines.
Chocolate is rated the second most common migraine trigger by migraine foundations and migraine support networks, effecting 22% of people suffering from them. The caffeine and a few other organic compounds in chocolate were declared as triggers for headaches in some people.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a substance that naturally exists in our body. Along with other additives, MSG can trigger headaches and migraines and is known to trigger the so called “Chinese restaurant syndrome”. Studies have claimed that MSG can lead to brain toxicity by causing excessive glutamate levels in the brain to overstimulate nerve cells, resulting in cell death. It is used as a flavor enhancer in foods and the glutamate interacts with our taste buds, giving foods an artificially stronger flavor.
6. Processed and red meat
Processed meat and meat products like ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs, sausages and others contain nitrates (a preservative for colour and flavour), other salts and chemicals, either added or naturally occurring, that lead to dehydration and have been shown to trigger headaches, migraines and increase cancer risks. Some research stated that the dilation effect of this to the blood vessels in the brain are the issue when it comes to processed and red meat.
Tyramine is not a food additive as it is a compound that is organically produced in our body when the amino acid tyrosine breaks down, which can happen when foods are preserved, fermented, or aged for a long time like cheese. When a higher amount of tyramine is present in the body, it can cause health problems like headaches and migraines (most common), high blood pressure, increased heart rate, feeling hot, sweating, redness of skin, hives, feeling of light-headedness, chills and clamminess. All of these symptoms often occur immediately after consuming high amounts of tyramine and can last for a few hours. Migraine sufferers often choose to avoid tyramine containing foods like cheese, sauerkraut, smoked meat and fish, miso, soy sauce and teriyaki sauce.
8. Fermented and pickled food
Similar to cheese, fermented and pickled foods trigger high amounts of tyramine in the body and therefore are. The above mentioned foods include pickles, sour gherkins, kimchi, kombucha, fermented cabbage or sauerkraut as well as pickled carrots, beetroot, radishes, onions, capsicum and asparagus.
9. Frozen and cold food
Eating and drinking frozen and cold food and drinks like ice cream, slurpees or slushies can trigger headaches and stabbing pains in the head especially when eaten quickly, when feeling overheated or after exercise, and these can often develop into a migraine.
10. Salt and salty food
Eating high amounts of salt and salty food does not only increase the blood pressure but also is known to trigger headaches and migraines. Processed salty food can also contain other preservatives that can be harmful in general as well as triggering headaches.
Treating migraines and headaches
Besides the over the counter and prescription drugs, there is some evidence that the following have supported in the management of migraines:
- Massage Therapy has been shown to lower the frequency of migraine attacks
- Vitamin B, especially Vitamin B 2, supports with preventing migraine episodes
- Magnesium supplementation
- Introducing a healthy diet and reducing triggering food
- Maintaining a healthy sleep rhythm with plenty of deeply restful sleep
- Managing stress levels
- Introducing regular computer, television and other screen breaks
For more information and to work out an individual plan to support with any headache or migraine issues please consider booking an Initial Consultation: