Migraines affect up to 15% of adults worldwide. They differ from an average headache by the severity and symptoms, and can greatly reduce the quality of life of people suffering from migraines. Despite decades of research, the exact cause of migraines is still unknown. It is clear that the diet will not cause a person to start experiencing migraines. However, for people suffering from migraines, diet is one of several factors that can cause migraines.
In fact, 10-60% of those who suffer from migraine claim that certain foods trigger migraines. This is a list of the most commonly reported foods that cause migraine.
1. Aged Cheeses:
Cheese is often identified as a migraine trigger. Researchers have hypothesized that this is because aged cheeses contain high levels of tyramine, which can affect blood vessels and cause a headache. Other foods rich in tyramine include cheeses that are aged, cured, dried, smoked or pickled, including cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, salami, sauerkraut and tofu. Unfortunately, the evidence on tyramine and migraines is mixed. However, more than half of the studies looking for a relationship between tyramine and migraines found that tyramine could act as a migraine promoting agent in some people. High quality studies are needed to confirm this link, although it is estimated that approximately 5% of people with migraines are sensitive to tyramine. If you feel that migraines are triggered by aged cheeses, this may be the reason.
Summary: Aged cheeses and other foods rich in tyramine are often considered migraine triggers. The evidence is mixed, but there may be a link.
Chocolate is a common migraine trigger. It has been suggested that phenylethylamine or flavonoids, two substances found in chocolate, could be the reason. However, the evidence is not conclusive. Some studies have found that chocolate can cause migraines in sensitive people. For example, a small study in migraine patients found that 5 of 12 participants received migraine attacks in one day for eating chocolate. Interestingly, none of them received a migraine attack after ingesting placebo. However, many other studies have not found a link between chocolate consumption and migraines. Therefore, it is likely that chocolate is not an important factor in migraines for most people. Despite this, those who feel that chocolate is a migraine cause may want to avoid it.
Summary: Chocolate is one of the most commonly reported migraine triggers. This may be related to some of the plant compounds found in chocolate.
3. Processed or Cured Meats:
Processed or cured meats, such as hot dogs or some lunch meats, contain preservatives known as nitrates or nitrites. In fact, in the 1970s, when people reported the first headaches after consuming nitrites, they were often referred to as “hot dog headaches.”
“Today, cured and processed meats are still often reported as migraine triggers”.
Nitrites can cause migraines causing blood vessels to expand. However, more research is needed to say how relevant this is for people suffering from migraine.
Summary: Processed or cured meats often contain nitrates or nitrites, which can trigger headaches in susceptible people.
4. Fatty and Fried Foods:
Fat can also affect susceptibility to migraines. This may be due to the high levels of certain fats in the blood leading to the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins can cause blood vessels to dilate, which can lead to migraines and increased pain. One study found that people who eat a daily high-fat diet that contains more than 69 grams of fat had almost twice as many headaches in those who ate less fat. They also found that after reducing their fat intake, the frequency and intensity of headache of the participants decreased. Almost 95% of the participants reported a 40% improvement in their headaches. Another study on a low-fat vegetarian diet found similar results, with reductions in headache and frequency of such pain. However, in both studies, other factors in addition to fat intake were changed, such as weight loss or intake of animal products. Therefore, it is not possible to say with certainty that the reduction in fat intake alone was responsible for the improvements.
Summary: Eating a diet high in fat can increase the frequency of migraines. Consequently, reducing fat intake has been shown to improve the intensity and frequency of migraine.
5. Some Chinese Foods:
Monosodium glutamate (GMS) is a controversial flavor enhancer added to some processed and Chinese foods to improve its tasty taste. Reports of headaches in response to consuming GMS have been frequent for several decades. But the evidence for this effect is controversial, and no well-designed study has shown a link between MSG intake and migraines. Alternatively, foods typically high in fat or salt content could be guilty of causing migraines. However, MSG is still frequently reported as a headache and migraine trigger.
Summary: Monosodium glutamate, which is present in many processed and Chinese foods, is often reported to cause headaches.
6. Coffee, Tea and Sodas:
Caffeine is often used to treat headaches. But interestingly, some evidence suggests that it can indirectly cause migraines. A “caffeine withdrawal” is a well known phenomenon in which a headache occurs as the effects of caffeine lose effect on the body. This occurs when blood vessels begin to expand again after contracting due to caffeine consumption. This effect could trigger migraines in those who are susceptible. However, caffeine withdrawal seems to most commonly cause headaches but not migraines.
Summary: Caffeine can trigger headaches indirectly through withdrawal effects. This happens when the effects of caffeine wear out and certain blood vessels expand.
7. Artificial Sweeteners:
Aspartame is a type of artificial sweetener that is frequently added to foods and drinks to make them sweet without adding sugar. Some people complain of having a headache after consuming aspartame, but most studies have shown a minimal or non-existent effect. Some small studies have investigated whether aspartame negatively affects people suffering from migraines. Unfortunately, the studies were small or had design defects, but they found that aspartame affected headaches in some migraine patients. One of these studies found that more than half of 11 participants experienced a higher frequency of migraine after consuming large amounts of aspartame. Therefore, it is possible that a part of migraine patients may be sensitive to aspartame.
Summary: Aspartame is a common artificial sweetener that can increase the frequency of migraine in some people.
8. Alcoholic Beverages:
Alcoholic beverages are one of the oldest triggers of headaches and migraines alike. Unfortunately, the reason why it causes such symptoms is not so clear. People with migraines tend to drink less alcohol than people without migraines and appear to be more likely than others to experience migraine symptoms as part of a hangover. However, alcohol itself cannot be guilty. People often point to red wine, rather than alcohol in general, as a migraine trigger. The evidence seems to support the idea that compounds specifically present in red wine, such as histamine, sulphites or flavonoids, could trigger headaches. As proof, one study found that drinking red wine, but not vodka, caused headaches. However, the exact cause of this is still unknown. Regardless, it is estimated that alcoholic beverages can trigger migraines to approximately 10% of people suffering from migraines. Although it is not necessary for most migraine patients to avoid alcohol completely, those who are susceptible should limit their consumption.
Summary: Alcoholic beverages are one of the best known migraine triggers. However, alcohol is not a problem for everyone who suffers from migraines, and the reason why it is not clear.
9. Food and Cold Drinks:
Most people have heard of “ice cream ” headaches caused by cold and frozen food and drinks. However, these foods and drinks can also cause migraines in susceptible people. One study asked participants to hold an ice cube between their tongues and the top of their mouths for 90 seconds to study cold-induced headaches. They found that this test triggered headaches in 74% of the 76 migraine patients who participated. On the other hand, it triggered pain in only 32% of those who suffered a non-migraine headache. Another study found that women who had experienced a migraine in the previous year were twice as likely to develop a headache after drinking ice water, compared to women who never suffered migraines. Therefore, migraine sufferers notice that headaches that are caused by cold foods may want to avoid eating cold or frozen foods and beverages, including frozen yogurt, ice cream or plovers.
Summary: People who suffer from migraines may be more likely to experience a cold-induced headache than the average person. Therefore, it may be a good idea to avoid very cold foods and drinks.
Although the diet will not cause someone to start suffering from migraines, it is one of the many factors that can trigger a migraine in someone who frequently experiences them. Therefore, victims who suffer migraine due to diet can find relief, avoiding any food that are migraine-provoking. The best way to identify if certain foods trigger migraines for you is to create a food diary and also check for patterns. Also, be sure to pay special attention to the food and beverages listed above. Avoiding common foods that can cause migraines is a good point to start reducing the frequency and severity of migraines.