29 Foods That Can Trigger Migraineby Mark Canadic Patient Advocate
Certain foods can help heal chronic conditions like migraines, while others aggravate them. When it comes to migraine, food triggers fall into three categories: common triggers, specific triggers, and inflammatory foods. Common triggers are the ones that studies have found to be problematic for many migraine sufferers. Specific triggers are those that are specific to your own sensitivities that are always changing. Inflammatory foods are those that aggravate our body and put a burden on it causing stress and raising our trigger levels. Here are 29 worst trigger foods for migraine and why they aggravate us.
Artificial sweeteners are a problem because of their synthetic nature and can often cause issues with our digestive tract which can exacerbate any flares. They are one of my most common trigger foods and should be avoided wherever possible. Their sweet taste means our body is still releasing insulin because it thinks there will be a load of sugar coming. When this sugar doesn’t come, our body ends up having to release sugar into our bloodstream to deal with the insulin and keep our blood sugar up. This leads to a vicious cycle of blood sugar spikes and drops.
We all know alcohol is a huge trigger, but why? Alcohol has a few troublesome effects on us that can lead to trigger. For starters, it has a vasodilating effect that can aggravate the blood vessels in our brain. It also suppresses any testosterone we have that helps balance our estrogens – and the imbalanced levels have been linked to migraines. Alcohol interrupts and slows liver function because of its need to be detoxed, spikes our blood sugar, and contributes to leaky brain.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a massive source of free glutamic acid, which can enter the brain space and cause our brain cells to excite, creating unstable actions and damage. Glutamate is a type of biogenic amine that is one of the biggest causes of Chinese food headaches. It can be hidden under many different names including: calcium caseinate, hydrolyzed protein, gelatin, yeast nutrient, textured protein, soy protein, whey protein isolate, and more.
Caffeine is a classic troublemaker. It should come as no surprise that because of caffeine’s addictive properties, we can develop a dependence on it: mental, emotional, and physical. Because caffeine is a vasoconstrictor it can cause our body to rebound with vasodilation and create a cycle of headaches to go along with it.
Red wine is especially problematic because it contains biogenic amines, problematic for the migraine brain, but it also has alcohol and preservatives like sulphites. These are all fuel for sensitive brains. Some easy ways to avoid the effects of red wine are by drinking blueberry wine instead, as it's reported to not be a common trigger.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified processed meat as a carcinogen. They are substantial sources of biogenic amines like histamine and tyramine and are often filled with preservatives that can aggravate our bodies. Avoid processed meats. Aim for fresh, pasture-raised meat as much as possible to avoid trigger chemicals and to maximize nutrition.
Chocolate is a personal love of mine but it's a double-edged sword. It contains both tyramine and phenylethylamine, which are big biogenic amines and can mess with our brains. Chocolate also contains other trigger ingredients like milk, soy, and wheat products. Make sure to read labels and aim for pure chocolate.
Wheat is one of the top 10 most common trigger foods and for good reason. The wheat our grandparents ate is not the same wheat we eat today. It is one of the most sprayed crops, and pesticides like glyphosate have toxic effects on both our guts and our brains. If your digestion isn’t at top capacity, wheat can get through the gut wall and into circulation, which may create a massive inflammatory response. Avoid wheat and instead use safer grains like einkorn, spelt, and quinoa.
Eggs are very healthy if we source them right, but the problem starts when we are eating them too often. If we have compromised digestive capacity or leaky gut and continually eat eggs, our bodies can become sensitive to them and this can create an immune response which will drive up inflammation and trigger levels.Make sure the eggs you buy are pasture-raised and insect fed, not grain fed. Try cutting the amount of days in a week that you eat eggs and don't crack the yolk when cooking to avoid oxidizing the cholesterol.
Oranges and citrus fruits
Oranges are another one of the most common 10 trigger foods. In fact, all citrus fruits can be trigger foods because of their tyramine levels. To enjoy citrus, make sure you drink fresh squeezed juice the first few minutes after squeezing the juices, when the nutrients are all intact. After a few hours or a few days, there are far more migraine chemicals forming in the juice, and many of the good nutrients like vitamin C have broken down, which can lead to this food becoming problematic.
Coffee is problematic because it is often used daily, and because of its caffeine content. If our digestion is compromised, then food particles can get into our bloodstream and our immune system can identify and attack them. Provided our digestion isn’t working right, this means that the more often we eat a food, especially if it's every day, the more likely we can sensitize ourselves to it. If you are experiencing daily headaches, try cutting out all sources of caffeine as you could be rebounding.
Tea is tricky because there are thousands of plants that can be turned into tea and many tea plants have no regulations for their pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. This causes tea to be a big source of stress on our bodies. Just like coffee, tea contains caffeine and should be carefully monitored for dependency and rebounds.
Milk is rough on many digestive systems. Some people are only sensitive to A1 dairy, which is most common in North America, and can tolerate A2 dairy, which is more common in Europe. The casein in milk, in particular, can be difficult to break down. If our body is not producing enough lactase enzymes, we can develop problems with lactose as well. If you have digestive issues, one of the first places to look is milk.
Corn is another one of the top 10 most common trigger foods because of its digestive difficulty, regular use, and pesticide spraying. Corn is used for foods like vegetable oils and high fructose corn syrup, which should both be completely removed from any migraine-sufferer’s diet, as they are extremely inflammatory. Instead of vegetable oil, use coconut oil, high quality butter or lard. Instead of high fructose corn syrup, use something simpler and more natural like maple syrup and honey.
Beef is a staple food in the American food supply, which makes it a prime food to become a trigger. If your stress levels are high, your digestion usually isn’t working properly. That means your food is not being broken down completely, and foods like beef become problematic. Make sure you eat only pastured beef, not grain-fed. Try slow cooking and marinating to pre-digest the meat before you eat it.
Cane sugar, just like high fructose corn syrup, is everywhere and common in many processed and packaged foods. Because it's high on the glycemic index, it can create big blood sugar issues that are intimately tied to our brain health. Our brain wants steady fuel. If we keep opening and closing the fuel gauge with blood-sugar spikes and drops, then we set ourselves up for big inflammatory issues.
Yeast products can trigger because they are often combined with many of the other trigger foods like dairy and wheat, but also because of the presences of biogenic amines. Another common cause of headaches is imbalance in our gut bacteria, like candida, a fungus-like yeast. Eating yeast products may contribute to the growth of candida in susceptible individuals.
Gluten containing grains
Just like wheat, gluten containing grains that can be difficult to digest, cause blood sugar issues, aggravate our immune systems, and inflame our bodies. They are often sprayed, so pick organic sources. If you have digestive issues, then use friendly grains like wild rice, teff, buckwheat, and quinoa.
I like shellfish because they are very high in nutrition. However, they are also one of the most common allergic foods, stirring up sensitivities and allergies, because they are bottom feeders and because the state of farmed seafood is terrible. Whenever possible, make sure to get wild and fresh sources of shellfish to eliminate biogenic amines. Also, refrain from eating shellfish every day as sea foods are developing heavy metal content that can lead to more problems down the road.
Tree nuts and peanuts
It's no surprise that tree nuts and peanuts are on this list because they are some of the most commonly eaten foods and the most commonly allergic as well. They are also high in biogenic amines, which can aggravate the brain and gut. Peanuts can contain mold that can compromise the immune system. They are also difficult to digest because of their high fat content. Almonds and hazelnuts may be better options but it depends on your specific sensitivity.
I've repeatedly found soy foods to be problematic for migraine sufferers. Soy can alter the way our sex hormones, like estrogen, function and can exacerbate hormonal issues. It is one the top 10 most common trigger foods list. It is especially important to avoid soy as a byproduct like soy lecithin. Some safer sources of soy may be natto, tempeh, and miso because they are fermented, but individual tolerance to fermented foods and soy applies.
Mushrooms can be amazing additions to our diet because of their immune benefits and high protein. They were found to be a sensitive food in migraine studies, and should be tested before used with regularity. Caution should be taken with mushrooms like Portobello as they require thorough cooking to remove harmful substances from them.
Fermented foods are another tricky one because they come in many forms and are great for adding probiotic bacteria to our guts to help with digestion. For the migraine brain, fermented foods can contain too many biogenic amines to be tolerable. The process of fermenting a food causes bacteria to break down and form biogenic amines like histamine and tyramine. You may be able to get away with pickled foods or a short ferment, but be careful with longer ferments especially cheeses.
Hydrogenated oils (like vegetable oil)
The body has a really tough time processing hydrogenated oils, which contain trans fats, and it commonly has to push them out through the skin to detoxify them. This can result in little red spots, acne and other skin issues. Inside of us, this oil is creating an inflammatory storm that can push our brain over the edge. Often times “vegetable” oil actually has no vegetables. It is made of grain oils. Steer clear of this oil and use healthier options like coconut oil, butter, lard, and olive oil, but make sure they are not hydrogenated and minimally processed.
Real salt isn't that bad because it contains dozens of minerals. But table salt is usually just sodium chloride. We need a lot more than sodium and chloride to function properly, and the 84-plus minerals in sea salt or Himalayan salt help to balance this out. Pre-made foods don’t usually use those salts. They use table salt, and a high intake of table salt can create hydration issues, dilate blood vessels, and lead to trigger.
Chemicals, additives, and preservatives are usually added to foods to increase flavor and improve shelf life. But if you have a sensitive digestive system, these additives can be the trigger that takes you over your threshold and inside the migraine hole. The problem is that there are so many, and they are often hidden in other ingredients. Be weary and listen to your body’s reactions to foods so that you know when something upsets it.
If you have a sensitivity to a grain, that gets translated into the meat. The more inflammation you eat from your diet, the more your body has to work to cool it down. Get pastured, grass-fed and grass-finished meats instead. When choosing poultry, find insect-fed sources, as they are much healthier because they eat their natural diet.
Dried foods (sulfites)
Sulfites are preservatives commonly found in processed foods. Sulfites are required to be labelled on anything containing over 10 ppm of sulfites. They can be problematic for the migraine brain because they may raise histamine levels, homocysteine levels, and oxidative stress. Not only that, but they can increase inflammation in the body.
When dealing with trigger foods, remember these three things: The body is always changing its tolerance. Many sensitivities can be healed and foods recovered. If you find a sensitive food, avoid it at all cost to prevent trigger.