Food Triggers and Your Migraine

Nutrition expert Heather Reese explains the relationship between your eating habits and your migraines.

Eighteen million Americans suffer from migraines. Most are women between the ages of 15 and 55 and many have a family history of these debilitating headaches. Fortunately migraines become less severe and frequent with age.

A migraine headache is a severe pain, usually felt on one side of the head. The pain is concentrated around the temples or behind one eye or ear and is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. These headaches can last for a few hours to a few days. For the people who suffer from these intense headaches the effects can be very disruptive to their lives.

Many things can bring on a migraine headache, but stress is considered the number one trigger. Common causes include:

  • Bright light or loud noise
  • Dehydration
  • Hormone changes during the menstrual cycle
  • Lack of food or sleep
  • Nicotine
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Weather changes

While research does not directly link migraines to food, those who suffer from these headaches will tell you that certain foods often trigger their migraines. And about 20 percent of those who suffer from these severe headaches report a response to changes in their diet. Unfortunately, determining which foods trigger your migraines is a trial and error process. It is often helpful to keep a migraine diary tracking your food intake along with the onset of migraines to help you pinpoint your individual triggers.

Experts who support a relationship between food and migraines explain that substances in some food items can cause changes in blood vessels, which may cause migraines. There are some common food triggers reported by many people who suffer from migraines.

However, this relationship is not straight forward. In fact, some foods that trigger migraines only do so during a time of stress or during hormonal changes. Some food triggers only result in a migraine when consumed in excess and some can trigger one of these headaches hours or even days later.

While I can't tell you for sure what is causing your migraines, I can review the common food triggers. In addition to specific foods there are also food components that some say can cause migraines and should be avoided. They are:

  • Caffeine in colas, chocolate, coffee and teas
  • Histamine, which is found in beer and red wine
  • Nitrates in processed meats like hotdogs, sausages, lunch meats and cured meats
  • Tyramine, which is an amino acids in chocolate, nuts and aged cheeses.