Can food cause or help prevent headaches and migraines?
Can food increase the chance of having headaches and migraines? And can they be controlled by the food we eat? Time to find out with help of MD Thordis Berger. Have a bite.
The exact cause for migraines is not known. But doctors agree that brief changes in brain activity seems to be involved. These appear to have an impact on blood vessels and nerve signals as well. The result: pulsate head pain that can sometimes last for days.
Many things can cause migraines, like medicine, changes in hormones, and lack of sleep. Diet also plays a part. In about 10% of people with these headaches, food is a trigger.
People with headache disease vary in their sensitivity to specific foods. Reactions to foods may take anywhere from ½ hour to 72 hours to develop, making them often very difficult to pinpoint. For that reason, it is recommended to keep a food diary, with columns for time, food(s) eaten and the amounts, and any headache symptoms.
You should start with a conservative diet (generally, one that does not include any of the foods in the following lists). You can introduce one new food every three days and determine any patterns/changes in migraine symptoms. This can be quite helpful and is well worth the time and effort.
Everyone is unique but there are categories of foods that are more likely to be triggers for migraine than others. They are grouped by similarities of sensitivities (for example, people who find red wine to be a migraine trigger often find chocolate to also trigger migraine).
The following food groups have been found to be common triggers for headaches and/ or migraines:
• Caffeine and Similar Compounds
- Caffeine is a stimulant that can alter the effectiveness of many migraine treatment medications. For that reason, caffeine intake should be limited and preferably, consistent.
• Foods high in Tyramine
- Tyramine is natural by-product of protein breakdown. Its content in food increases as food, especially high protein foods, age. All food, especially high protein foods, should be prepared and eaten fresh. Be cautious of leftovers that you want to store for more than 2 or 3 days.
- Some people get migraine from consuming any alcohol. Others react mostly to red wine (especially Chianti), which is due to a sensitivity to the chemicals, not alcohol, in red wine. People who are sensitive to red wine are often also sensitive to chocolate. In all cases, please speak with your Physician and/or Pharmacist regarding alcohol intake, as many medications react with alcohol.
Please be aware that migraine triggers can have an additive effect. For instance, being overtired is a migraine trigger for many people, so is skipping a meal. If you haven’t gotten enough sleep, then rush through the morning and skip breakfast, you will be much more likely to get a migraine.
For women only: Many females with migraine diseases are much more sensitive to migraine triggers when they are premenstrual. Foods that may not bother you the week after your period may trigger head pain or migraine the week before your period.
More on how to manage menopause symptoms here.
Benefits of a plant-based diet to prevent headaches and migraines
Physicians Committee research published in the Journal of Headache and Pain found that a plant-based diet reduces migraine pain. The severity of participants’ worst headache pain improved significantly when they were consuming a plant-based diet. The decline in migraine pain may have been due to the elimination of dietary pain triggers such as meat and dairy products or by weight loss or hormonal changes brought on by the diet change.
MacGregor EA. Migraine. Ann Intern Med. 2017 Apr 4;166(7):ITC49-ITC64..
Finocchi C, Sivori G. Food as trigger and aggravating factor of migraine. Neurol Sci. 2012 May;33 Suppl 1:S77-80.
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: “Migraine Diet: A Natural Approach to Migraines.”
Journal of Headache and Pain - https://thejournalofheadacheandpain.biomedcentral.com/