Anyone who suffers from migraine headaches knows that there are a host of factors that can contribute to symptoms’ occurrence and severity. Most people come in contact with many things on the irritating list of triggers over the course of a regular day. These triggers include, but are not limited to, moderate levels of stress, physical exertion or exposure to light.
But the trickiest trigger, and possibly the biggest pain in the neck, is diet.
Few studies prove a link between food and migraine, but, then again, little has been proven regarding migraine triggers in general. Patient self-reporting generates most of what is known.
Thus, a wide variety of foods and substances are known to trigger migraine headaches. This list is so wide, in fact, that the foods often lack any discernable common traits. Worse yet, more often than not, the foods and substances that trigger your migraines are those you love the most.
So what substances and foods are thought to trigger migraines, and what do they have in common?
Many of the foods that contribute to migraines contain a chemical called tyramine. Tyramine is an amino acid that develops naturally in many foods as they age. The chemical can affect changes in the vascular system that may lie at the root of migraine.
Tyramine is common in aged and cured meats like pepperoni, sausage, bacon and ham, and in aged or cured cheeses like Swiss, Parmesan, cheddar, and Brie. The chemical can also be found nuts, beans, yogurt, bananas, and citrus fruits
2. Food Additives
Three additives are consistently linked to migraine—nitrates, MSG, and artificial sweeteners. Nitrates are used in processed meats to keep them fresh. They are thought to expand blood vessels in those susceptible to migraines, and to trigger pain.
Monosodium glutamate (more commonly known by its initialism, MSG) is also thought to generate migraines. The substance can be found in anything, but is most commonly added to processed foods.
If you have migraines, and regularly drink any “diet” beverages, it might be time to stop. Artificial sweeteners have also been linked to migraine symptoms. These additives can, like MSG, be found in anything, so check your labels.
It is not entirely clear why alcohol triggers migraine symptoms, but there are several widely held conjectures. One is that the sulfate content (which is particularly high in wine and beer) is at fault. Another is that alcohol dehydrates you, and the resultant dehydration is responsible for your headaches.
In small doses, caffeine can, in fact, alleviate migraine symptoms. In larger doses, it can cause them; or cause withdrawal symptoms, which in turn can cause headaches.
A few other foods that are thought to produce migraines include chocolate, buttermilk, sour cream, figs, raisins, avocados, and yeast breads.
Remember, many of the above-mentioned foods trigger migraines in some people and not in others. The best way to find out which foods work for you, and which do not, is to keep a record.