When ANOTHER new trigger emerges- hot pepper

When ANOTHER new trigger emerges- hot pepper

Migraine is a wily, sneaky little devil. Right when you think you know how your typical migraine episode progresses, the pattern changes completely. The drugs that used to allow you to bounce back to regular life at almost 100% now barely work. The typical diet you once enjoyed is now rife with triggers that have emerged over time, but sometimes you can sample a food that once caused you agony only to find it’s no longer a trigger for you. Your ability to pull all-nighters is long gone now that a messed up sleep schedule can cause you to be bedridden for an entire day (or week!) due to the resulting migraine.

A few months ago, I talked about red onion emerging as a migraine trigger only once I got into my thirties. This is a food I enjoy to this day, though I now pluck it out of salads and remove it from stir-fry dishes in order to avoid the migraine that comes along with it. Years ago, I wrote a post about having to say goodbye to my beloved beverage, beer, and hundreds of you responded about how hard it was to say goodbye to something you love because it turned out to be a migraine trigger.

Now I have a new loved thing to add to my list of no-nos: hot spices and/or peppers. (Why the vagueness? I’m still not sure what particular ingredient is to blame.) You know how people say you should have some hot and spicy soup if you have sinus congestion because it’ll clear you right up? I used to be one of those people. That is, until a few months ago when having certain spicy foods stuffed me up instead of clearing me out.

I get a full feeling in my ears, followed by significant sinus pressure and discomfort. If I’m already primed for a migraine, this sensation caused by the hot/spicy ingredient will certainly be the straw that broke the camel’s back and I’ll end up with a migraine. If I have been fairly healthy and haven’t exposed myself to many other migraine triggers, the spice will cause me to feel a short-term tension headache and discomfort, both of which dissipate eventually.

I’m at the point now that I am going to ask a couple of restaurant manager friends what exactly is in their taco hot sauce or spicy soup. Not all spicy things trigger migraines for me, and I’ve had several different types of cuisine (BBQ, Mexican, Vietnamese, and more) that have elicited this response.

Does anyone reading this have a similar reaction to spicy foods? Have you been able to deduce what ingredient is at the root of this? How do you investigate your food and drink triggers when any given dish or beverage can have multiple ingredients sourced from numerous companies/locales?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (29)
  • Susan L
    5 years ago

    All of this is amazing to read all at once, as I just have done. I have picked up much info, but have also read a lot about my own past in your shared experiences. It is SO frustrating how this stinker of a disease is like a shape-shifter over time. I’ve struggled with it for 50 years; seen one trigger after another bloom & die; found one miracle drug or combo of supplements become my saviors only to drop me like a cheating lover after time has passed. I see some of you discovering one food bringing on an attack while another one of you is felled by another, while I can eat both, but have the same bad luck as yet another one of you. And from my experience, 2 years from now, I may be able to feast on the enemy food again. I hate this! Right now I’m in day 4 of unrelenting pain, and I know that tomorrow or the next day, it’ll simply go away, and my preventive routines will once again resume working. But my own personal diet-du-jour will remain in place as I jealously read about some of the things a FEW of you are able to enjoy eating…for now…do enjoy. 😉

  • Dolly Ward Paice
    5 years ago

    Just wanted to through this out here. I just received an email from migraine.com sponsored by a new nasal spray for migraines….Ausanil. It actually sounds promising, however, in light of this article regarding hot peppers as a trigger. One of the “inactive” ingredients in this nasal spray is Capsaicin, the thing that makes peppers hot. I would really watch out with this spray. Even though if you look up capsaicin and it’s uses, I was happy to see it can help neural pain such as trigeminal, which is part of my migraine problem however, it repeatedly says not to get this in your mucous membranes…hello your nostrils. So I found it humorous that one of the side effects to this spray was a “stinging” in the nose and watery eyes. Makes me leery about trying it…..

  • Luna
    5 years ago

    Hot pepper is not a trigger for everyone. I am extremely sensitive to odors and chemicals. Occasionally I have breathed into my nostrils gas or other chemical fumes. Immediately I put cayenne water into the inside of the nostrils to get the chemical out of my nose to lessen the bad effects of getting the fumes in the mucus membranes. It works every time. It does exactly what is needed makes my nose run and cleans out the fumes. I love hot and spicy foods and enjoy them a lot.

  • Tammy Rome
    5 years ago

    Isn’t is amazing how even with the same diagnosis, all of us have unique triggers? I also use cayenne pepper nasal spray to abort some migraines. Yet many of my friends swear it makes theirs worse. Maybe someday there will be enough research to explain it all.

  • Sharon C.
    5 years ago

    Last night was awful. I had a migraine emerge around noon. Treated with Excedrin, in middle of dinner I could taste bell peppers in the cheese of my pizza. There were no peppers on my half. Dinner was awful, the smell in the house was making me sick, with the migraine. Never been triggered like that before.

  • manahime1969
    5 years ago

    Personally I’m still in the search and discovery phase. In both medication and what triggers them. I’ve discovered a lot of my triggers but, I still keep finding more of them all the time. I’ve also noticed that they have changed since I’ve first stated getting them in High school but, it’s only recently that I’ve started to take them seriously. Simply because up until now I really didn’t know I was supposed to take all that seriously.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    Manahime1969- you mention that you’re still in the discovery phase of medication and triggers. I’d suggest that you keep a headache diary and maybe a food diary to help you and your doctor narrow down the possibilities. Our site has a great interactive Migraine Diary that you can print out and bring to your doctor visits:

    http://migraine.com/migraine-meter/

  • marti
    5 years ago

    That’s one of the most frustrating things about migraine – the triggers keep changing. The things that bother me now are different from what used to bother me, and I’m sure they’ll continue to change.
    I’ve been dealing with them for almost 35 years and I’m learning new things all the time.

  • marti
    5 years ago

    It’s interesting that you bring this up – my migraines have been getting worse lately and I’ve been doing some research into what dietary triggers could be affecting me. I read that nightshade vegetables are a trigger for a lot of people. I’d never heard of nightshade vegetables before, but they include tomatoes, potatoes (except sweet potatoes,) and all peppers except white pepper and black pepper. As dearly as I love them, I cut them out of my diet, and what do you know, I feel better.
    Last weekend, though, I ate some green bean chips that I thought were OK, but I got that weird feeling in the back of my head, and then the pain hit. I googled all the ingredients in the chips and one of them, dextrin, is made from potatoes. Go figure….
    It’s really frustrating to have to be so careful and vigilant, especially when the triggers keep changing.

  • Adamsgran726
    5 years ago

    I’ve found that some foods have a cumulative effect. Any raw onions give me a migraine if I have them twice in a 24-hour period. So, I can have onions on my burger one day, but not the next. So far, chili & other peppers seem to be OK, but I’m not a huge fan of really hot spicy foods.

  • deanna
    5 years ago

    Jeffie, I agree with you!! My cooking is better than any restaurants, you can taste how FRESH it is! With so many cooking websites it’s easy to find recipes to tweak so they are migraine friendly. I also try to make extra to freeze so I don’t have to cook on a bad day.

  • Jeffie
    5 years ago

    “Does anyone reading this have a similar reaction to spicy foods? ”
    It appears BluesJr is the closest victim to migraine that I can relate too. But to answer your question Migraine Girl, I have had reactions to some spicy foods. I always find out later that those spicy foods contained MSG. It never fails. Antidote? Spend less money and more time making it myself without the MSG ingredients. I’m not a chief, but surprisingly people who taste my stuff always say I should be. They ask for the ingredients and then the arguements insue (lol). IF I tell them that I did this and that because I suffer from migrianes, they are completely blown away that I took the time to research and found what they call “a rather unique and exquisite alternative to the same ole same ole”. My advise stay away from the restuarants as much as possible (a real downer in the social realms, I know) OR eat nothing there when you do. MSG makes products last longer, so in this economy more companies are using it than ever before.

    Last note, I believe Migraines are a allergic reaction (my none professional opinion that will be published by some other doctor) and it happens when the body is exposed to a (get ready for it) COMBINATION OF allergens. Example, you may not be directly allergic to Oak pollen, but when it exist in the air at heavy levels, you react when eating those delicious red onions. Then when the Oak pollen levels go down, you slip a red onion in your mouth and have no reaction at all. In fact, your body tells you “what in the world have you been doing to me? Starving me from red onions? What is wrong with you girl? Dude,I NEED more!!!”, then you are putting red onions on your ice cream. So match heavy cycles of allergens with food intake. When certain cycles of allergens goes down, re-introduce your body. This works with everything EXCEPT MSG. Good luck to all as ragweed from my neighbors uncut yard is practicably killing me. Right now, I can’t stand a Green Pepper. Waiting for winter to indulge on those bad boys again. Oh wait, he is mowing the lawn finally !! God Bless America.

  • deanna
    5 years ago

    For me a major trigger is something that is put in red meat (I can eat organic with no problem) If I get meat from Costco I’m in violent pain and sick for days!!! Unfortunately they don’t have to list what the meat is treated with. How do we really find our triggers when some industries don’t have to list ingredients? Some beers in the US have MSG in them… they don’t have to list it. Now I know why I can’t drink that!
    It isn’t bad enough that our migraines do naturally change with time and are unpredictable but we also have to deal with the food industry getting clever with hiding MSG and other chemicals that could be triggers .
    Now I eat nearly all organic, only eat what I cook and have even found meat grown local that I’ve had no problems with. This has improved my headaches and I’m not vomiting all the time. Unfortunately I still get chronic migraines but they are better and I use a lot less medication controlling them.

  • Jeffie
    5 years ago

    Deanna,

    Red meat is dyed with the color red and a MSG is contained in that dye. Ever seen meat at the grocery store that has been sitting for 3 days to a week? The beef starts looking like pork. No the beef isn’t bad (yet) but the dye was absorb by the padding underneath. The MSG remains in the meat because it is a salt. I’m glad you can afford organic as I can’t at this moment. When I could, my migraines cleared up greatly. Thanks for buying local

  • Mary
    5 years ago

    I now use shallots instead of any type of onion as I found out that onions are a trigger for me. I also make my own msg-free all natural taco seasoning. I suspect that the chili powder in it may be a trigger but I’m still not sure about it or just don’t want to admit that I have yet one more trigger to add to my ever-growing list. I have a couple of books that are an excellent resource. One is “Heal your Headache” by David Bucholtz and the other is “Migraine-Free Cooking” by Heidi Gunderson. I admit that I don’t truly follow everything in Buchholt’s book but it has really helped me to identify most of my triggers. The cookbook offers many recipes that really have no triggers for me. The best thing about the cookbook is the recipes for dressings and soy sauce.

  • msruff
    5 years ago

    Not that I doubt you, but I’m actually surprised that hot peppers would be a trigger. Capsacin, the “hot” ingredient in hot peppers, is used as part of an anti-pain cream and is also useful against ulcers.

    If I might make a suggestion – I had a chronic migraine for 15 1/2 years, and I expected to have it for the rest of my life. I ended up going to the Jefferson Headache Center in Philadelphia last year, and, although I get periodic migraines, essentially I am migraine-free; it’s been about six weeks since my last attack. I would highly recommend that you check out this center or one like it in your area and see what they can do for you. And, yes, they definitely take food triggers into account.

  • Garangwyn
    5 years ago

    This is really interesting, as several weeks ago I suddenly broke out in hives for having eaten something I was clearly allergic to. This was the first time I had exhibited this kind of food allergy, although of course I have my migraine triggers…and as you have said, they have changed over the course of the years. For example, most dairy products will trigger a migraine for me, especially soft cheese like cottage or ricotta, but NOT hard, aged cheese, like most people have trouble with! I had to give up ice cream and milk shakes, but I found out last summer that I could eat mint chip ice cream without having a migraine…perhaps there is something in the mint that counteracts whatever is in the dairy…I don’t know. I ate it all summer and gained 10 pounds.

    But the day I broke out in hives I had eaten some canned organic vegetarian chili from Trader Joe’s. It was quite hot — which usually upsets my stomach — and although it didn’t, I had hives for days. I wasn’t sure what it was in the chili until last weekend when I was out of town, and had breakfast and put a small amount of just the “juice” from some salsa over my eggs (I didn’t want to take the chance on an upset stomach away from home). This time I broke out only in a couple of spots, and they disappeared quickly. But there was something definitely in the salsa as well. I’m assuming it’s either a spice, or the jalapenos that I know were in the chili.

    I haven’t tried any other kind of hot peppers, but yesterday I made some vegetable soup from scratch, and put in some sweet red peppers. I have hive-like bumps in one spot on one arm. I can’t really call them hives…but now I wonder! I have an appointment with the allergist tomorrow for my seasonal allergies…I will definitely have to discuss this. BUT…while I am just getting over a migraine, and the soup may have had something to do with it, I haven’t yet made a connection between the peppers and migraines. Will have to watch my journal closely!

  • bluesjr
    5 years ago

    Well, we love our Mexican food out here in California too. My biggest food disappointment when migraines first started, was pizza and beer/wine (yeast, cheese, nitrates, sulfites, pork, garlic, etc, etc). Then chocolate. But I persisted in eating onions. How can one cook anything!? My last refuge for eating out was Mexican. But my favorite burrito was just loaded with no-no’s (marinated carnitas/pork, cheese, sour cream, salsa fresca/onions, cilantro, avocados). So I don’t eat out at all anymore (soy or fish sauce, MSG, etc had already killed asian).

    I cook beans at home with jalapenos, adobo and/or cayenne pepper. But I finally gave up onions in desperation on Jan 1st, so while I can bring some heat, my home-cooking is still lacking some essential flavor without the onions and garlic. But I can at least isolate the ingredients for test purposes.

    Anything bottled/canned must be examined carefully for triggers. Most hot sauces have vinegar, and EVERY salsa I’ve ever picked up has onions and garlic, and usually some vinegar. Consider lime as well in Mexican foods. My neurologist kept bringing up citrus (and I’ve got three productive citrus trees in my yard!).

  • jantics3
    5 years ago

    Peppers are a definite trigger for me. At first it was just bell peppers. Now it is all peppers. Try being allergic to peppers in Texas! You may want to watch out for over the counter pain relievers that contain CAPSAICIN. This is the drug name for peppers. I also have a problem with cooked tomatoes when my pain level is high or when having a migraine. I have to be absolutely migraine & pain-free or the cooked tomatoes will trigger an intense pounding migraine with hives. Love your board. Keeps me going and encouraged =^^=

  • Janet
    5 years ago

    I’m confused by your article migraine girl…having been inpatient many times for migraine treatments and being given dietary lists of migraine triggers and reading the list posted by Teri Roberts…I’m baffled by some comments below.

    I was told BBQ is a no no under any circumstance…also pork. Vinegars ..I was told only apple cider and white were ok. Mexican..NEVER eat…isn’t the corn flour used in those yummy tortilla chips served with salsa a killer for anyone but me??? I love Mexican food but said good bye to it long ago. When I cheat ..I pay. And since I’ve become chronic…I don’t really cheat anymore. It isn’t worth it..not for a minute.

    So maybe my brain fog has really increased…but these foods that are all of a sudden triggers I thought were always triggers.

    FYI .. After just returning from a 7 day cruise to the western Caribbean (which I was certain would be a complete disaster) and sticking as true to migraine diet…I did great. Seems sunshine and warm weather helps my head a lot more than damp, cold, drizzly, rainy days..what a shocker…not really.

    Finally my doc empathized with the fact that I haven’t slept in 2 years so before we left she prescribed sleep meds. Also I asked if she knew anything about migraines. Since I cannot get into Emory university on mid July of this year, she provided me with a toradol injection…2 before I left….I have never seen this posted ever and wonder why NO headache specialist I’ve seen in the last 15 years recommended it…I wanted to kiss her feet.

    Wow…sleep has decreased severity in pain level tremendously.

    I’m not trying to come across as a know it all because I feel I can’t learn enough and all,the information swims around in my head because the articles i read are so very very conflicting….but some of these foods even my husband recognized as foods that disappeared from. My plate 20 years ago.

    Blessings
    Janet

  • afinkel
    5 years ago

    Hi Janet,
    My neurologist gave me a prescription for oral Toradol and Maxeran, to be taken as a rescue remedy if my Zomig doesn’t work. I’ve only had to use them a few times, thankfully, but it is so reassuring that I have something to fall back on, just in case. Toradol and Maxeran IV are the treatment protocol at my local emergency.
    That’s great that you have finally been able to sleep. I’d be very careful about taking those meds for longer than a few weeks. Most likely you were prescribed a benzodiazepene or a drug that works similarly. These drugs are meant to be used for only a few weeks and after that, their effectiveness diminishes to the point the only way to get the same effect is be increasing the dose. They are also highly addictive. I know – I was on them for 10 years, also prescribed for sleep. I weaned off the med because it was no longer helping me to sleep, in fact it had probably stopped working after a short while but my doctor kept prescribing it and I kept taking it. I didnt’ know any better. It took me a whole year to wean off the med. I haven’t taken any for two years and for my sleep, I joined Sleepio which is an internet-based CBT program for insomnia. It is based out of the UK but there are other similar programs. My sleep is so much better!
    Angie

  • jantics3
    5 years ago

    Bless your heart! Sounds like you have been really suffering! I think that each of us has an individual migraine pattern with different combination of triggers. You may have alot of food triggers. I have two … peppers, cooked tomatoes. What does trigger my migraines is the weather … heat, cold, barometric pressure, wind (worst), certain chemicals. So, when I get a migraine that doesn’t fit with one of my known triggers … which may be a food, for example … it is an “ah-ha” moment. Hope you continue to feel better and enjoy the benefits of your rest.

  • Penny
    5 years ago

    Penny S. , I too have found that recently the spice in various foods has almost immediately caused me to get stuffy and then as you described earlier , the tension headache , but my headache always leads to a migraine . I feel as though I’m developing an allergic reaction to these certain spices and red onions also !:( . I’ve been using more spices in the last year because I’m trying to change my eating as a life change and with a bit of spice it gives more flavor without the added calories , I’ve been advised by my Dr .

  • PHennessey
    5 years ago

    If the dish is prepared with Sriracha, Tabasco, Cholula, or some other hot sauce, could the culprit be vinegar?

  • CarolynKH
    5 years ago

    Could it be mustard? Worth checking into. I know it seems like an innocuous ingredient but it may be a trigger.

  • Angie
    5 years ago

    As strange as this sounds, cilantro is a trigger for me, which can be found in hot sauce, salsa, and recipes for spicy foods. Very unfortunate since Mexican food is my favorite and I LOVE spicy foods. It took a while for me to figure out cilantro was a trigger. But if I eat anything with cilantro in it I have a migraine within the hour.

    Best of luck on your quest to figure out what ingredient is your trigger. And thank you for reminding us all that triggers can change over time.

  • KGriz
    5 years ago

    I have found that any foods containing yeast,fermented foods or containing vinegar cause me terrible trouble and it took a really long time to pin point. I thought it was the other foods it was in, but knowing now has cut my headaches from 12-15 a month down to 2-5. Not perfect, but much better.

  • Chronic Mark
    5 years ago

    Garlic….love the stuff. Used to put it in many dishes. But now I find a little is ok…but a lot will be a trigger. Even the store bought sauces that are garlic and herb are sometimes too much. I hope it doesn’t get to the point that I can’t eat it at all.

  • Kim
    5 years ago

    Onions are one of my food triggers and that includes sauces made with onion powder and/or extracts. It took quite a long time for me to figure that out. You may want to investigate the preservatives or ‘other seasonings’ that are in the hot and spicy foods that are your new triggers.

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