Foods Implicated in Migraines

There are over 37 million people in the U.S. who suffer from migraines. For some individuals, food is a major contributor. The top four migraine triggering foods are:

Other Common culprits include:

  • Tyramine or Phenylethylamine -two amino acids found in chocolate, aged or fermented cheese, (including cheddar, Blue, Brie, and all hard and “moldy” cheeses), soy foods, all nuts and most seeds, citrus fruits, vinegar (both red and white) and some vegetables. Fermented foods also contain higher levels of histamines, another possible migraine trigger.
  • Some Leftovers- Since tyramine content increases over time, migraine sufferers may find relief by avoiding leftovers. Always practice safe handling of leftovers by discarding any foods not stored promptly at proper temperatures. Track and trend which leftovers are more likely to trigger migraines in your journal.
  • Nitrates: processed meats including hot dogs, bacon, ham, salami, pepperoni
  • Sulfites: dried fruits (prunes, figs, apricots)
  • MSG found in Chinese foods & some soy sauce. Many restaurants avoid MSG as noted on the menu.
  • Aspartame- Nutrasweet or Equal
  • Food Dyes- found in sweets, pickled foods?
  • Caffeine- including coffee, tea, cola
  • Dairy Products- including yogurt

Other potential trigger foods, though less researched at present time include:

  • Caffeine — Can help relieve headache pain for many, yet for some individuals, consuming caffeine on a regular basis appears to make them more susceptible to migraine triggers. Individuals with occasional migraines may find it beneficial to limit caffeine intake to no more than two days a week
  • Tannins-Tea, red-skinned apples and pears, apple juice and cider, and red wine all contain tannins
  • Gluten, found in wheat, barley and rye- Celiac disease may be associated with migraine
  • Ice cream- some individuals have a cold sensitivity

Note: Migraine triggers vary greatly from person to person. While this is a list of some common triggers, they may not all apply to you. You may also discover other food/drink triggers not included in the list above

Migraines triggered by certain foods, generally occur within 24 hours of consuming the offending food or beverage, however it can take longer than 24 hours in some cases. It’s also important to consider combining triggers or “stacking.” One Migraine attack can last for eight hours, several days, or even weeks. To determine whether a food or environmental trigger is responsible, start documenting with a food diary for once a week. You will be able to identify potential culprits in your diet and make changes to prevent future attacks!

If you still have difficulty identifying your migraine trigger, and you suspect food is the cause, you may want to consult a registered dietitian regarding following an elimination diet. Although this is not substantiated by clinical studies, anecdotally (in some cases) it has been shown to help.

References: 1 National Headache Foundation, 2010 – 2 http://www.cspinet.org/nah/02_08/caffeine.pdf – 3 Panconesi, A.. (2008). Alcohol and migraine: trigger factor, consumption, mechanisms. A review. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 9(1), 19-27. Retrieved October 3, 2011, from ProQuest Health and Medical Complete. (Document ID: 1441106891). – 4 Headache: The Journal of Head & Face Pain, Mar2008, Vol. 48 Issue 3, p499-500, 2p; DOI: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2007.01050.x – 5 Am. J. Obstet. Gynec. doi:1016/j.ajog.2007.10.803.- 6 Birth Defects Res. A 79: 533, 2007. 3 Epidemiology 17: 324, 2006.- 7 http://www.migraines.org/myth/mythreal.htm- 8 http://www.news-medical.net/news/20091019/Migraine-can-stimulate-alcohol-induced-headache.aspx- 9 http://www.joybauer.com/migraines/common-triggers/tannins.aspx- 10 http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/migraine-headache-000072.htm- 11 Am J Gastroenterol. 2003;98:625-629

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.

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