Foods, drink and eating habits have long been blamed for triggering migraines in sufferers. Some studies show that about 20 percent of migraine sufferers count certain foods as triggers. Other studies report that anywhere from 7 percent to 44 percent of migraine sufferers point to certain foods as triggers.
Sometimes it’s not necessarily the food itself that triggers the attack, it may be an additive in the food such as food coloring that launches the migraine attack.
Specific foods may serve as triggers in some individuals, while others might suffer a migraine attack if they miss a meal. Studies show that almost half of people with migraines have attacks if they fast. The migraine typically occurs after roughly 16 hours of fasting. The reason behind this isn’t certain, but some researchers believe that without food the body produces stress hormones, which activate chemicals in the brain responsible for migraines.
Another belief is that the food cravings are actually part of the disease which leads to eating non-typical foods, such as chocolate. In this scenario, the food itself may not be the trigger.
Most common foods that trigger migraines
- Chocolate, 75 percent
- Cheese, particularly aged cheese, 48 percent
- Citrus fruits , 30 percent
- Alcohol, particularly red wine and beer, 25 percent
According to a 1979 study of 500 migraine sufferers
An additional list of foods that trigger migraines
- Ham, hot dogs, other cured meats
- Monosodium glutamate, MSG, commonly found in Chinese foods, soy sauce and packaged foods
- Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners
- Asian foods
- Snack foods
- Fatty foods
- Ice cream and other frozen foods
- Food dyes
- Coffee, tea, cola (other items containing caffeine and caffeine withdrawal)
- Dairy products, yogurt
About specific migraine food triggers
Chocolate contains several ingredients that may play a role in triggering migraines. One substance, phenylethylamine may alter blood flow in the brain or cause the release of other chemicals in the brain leading to migraine. Chocolate also contains caffeine.
Caffeine has well-known effects on the central nervous system and the blood vessels of the brain. Marketed as a stimulant that increases alertness and energy, caffeine may also induce insomnia. Withdrawal from caffeine is also known to cause head pain which can last for days.
MSG, monosodium glutamate, a food additive used to enhance flavor of foods. It is commonly found in foods from Chinese restaurants, frozen foods, canned or dried soups, processed meats, salad dressings, snacks as well as tomato or barbecue sauce. MSG, has been found to cause animal blood vessels to narrow and contract, may trigger migraines by this action in the blood vessels of the brain. It could stimulate certain receptors in the central nervous system or lead to the release of nitric oxide, which may lead to the head pain.
Cured meats such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and ham contain nitrites to preserve color and flavor, while preventing growth of botulism. Nitrites may cause the release of nitric oxide and widening of blood vessels.
Managing migraine food triggers
The best way to manage your food or any other migraine trigger is to take notes in your migraine journal. This journal should contain:
- A detailed description of every migraine attack
- What you were doing before you experienced the migraine
- How long the migraine lasted
- A list of all symptoms you experienced
- A description of how severe your migraine symptoms were
Your migraine journal will help you make your own migraine trigger list. You can probably reduce the number of migraine attacks by avoiding items on your list.