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Migraine food triggers

Migraine Food Triggers: An Introduction

We’ve all heard about foods that are potential migraine triggers and many of us have tried avoiding those foods to some degree. Unfortunately, individual triggers can be elusive. Figuring out which foods are problematic for you can be maddening. Some people have no food triggers at all, while others have so many food triggers that every meal triggers a migraine.

The latter describes me. I have tried a variety of elimination diets – avoiding typical migraine triggers, gluten, dairy, and a whole list of foods that allergy testing showed were problematic for me – for different lengths of time and still couldn’t figure out what my food triggers were. Still, I knew I had to have some issue with food because I always felt worse after I ate. It took work and I still have fine-tuning to do, but I’ve made tremendous progress. Last year was the best year I’ve had in more than 12 years.

For me, the biggest culprit is one that gets almost no attention in the migraine world: dietary histamine. Figuring that out was arduous (and involved a stint into malnutrition), but it also taught me a ton about food triggers — and that there are safe and easier ways to sleuth them out than my original approach. This is the start of a series on migraine and food triggers. Some of the topics I’ll address include:

Have other questions I haven’t mentioned? Please leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to cover them in the series.

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

  • elleochs
    3 years ago

    Kerrie-
    Regarding your post reply on Jan 14, 2015;

    I completely agree your “full Bucket” analogy…

    I was diagnosed 45 years ago, at age 5. The Triptans (abortive medications) weren’t available and prescribed to me until I was in my 30’s. So,I spent 25+ years piecing together the puzzle of what triggered my constant migraines in hopes of avoiding a headache when there was no medication available to stop one. The answer remained elusive.

    The “Bucket” theory is the only explanation for why a food/weather pattern/stressful event would trigger a migraine episode one week and then fail to trigger one the very next. The mystery is solved when you finally realize that it is truly a combination of triggers that “fill” your bucket – at which point – the very next trigger will “cause” a migraine.

    During those years, I learned that there are a few things that will immediately trigger a migraine without regard for other factors – ie. for me one is Red Wine. I can never, and do not drink red wine.

    Now, with a daily prophylactic beta blocker, and abortive Maxalt MLT tablets, I don’t worry nearly as much about what caused the last migraine. We can’t control the weather or our hormones, but we can stick to a diet that works for us (for me it’s Gluten and Dairy free), excercize and make a real effort not to fall into a cycle of medication overuse which can easily cause rebounding migraines.

    Non-migraineurs will lend advice about “trying Aleve or nasal sprays”… or even “staying clam” if you mention missing or leaving work early due to a migraine. They mean well and don’t know any better. Don’t take it personally. There is no real understanding in the general population that this is a disease, an incurable disease.

    This disease is exhausting. It is a constant balancing act. One that we struggle to control – but remains uncontrollable.

    “The Bucket”,by far, remains the best way to describe the migraine process to others.

    Thank you for your insightful posts,
    Elle
    Alpharetta, GA

  • julie
    5 years ago

    After years of suffering with migraines I finally tried a paleo diet a year ago this past January in 2014. My husband tried it in December of 2013, to try to stop the swelling his leg where it had been broken in his 20’s. Not only did my headaches get much better because you get rid of all the grains (wheat, oats, etc.) but, I lost 60+ pounds too! Went from 180 pounds at 5’4″ to 119 pounds and feel great. Didn’t have a migraine for 3 months and I believe it was because of my diet! I did however have one for 4 days because of really bad storms in the area and low pressure here in the area!

    Julie, Atl, GA

  • echo123
    5 years ago

    Kerrie, Thanks for your great article. I look forward to the follow up/series that you will be writing on this. The very first time you wrote on this I thought wow, this is me! So many histamine foods are migraine triggers for me, and so many more food triggers. Artificial sweeteners, MSG, nitrates, sulphites…
    It seems like when I eat, I get a migraine, UGH!! At times I feel like I am starving!!
    Botox worked for a while, but after 3 years, I am breaking through. I hate, so many healthy foods, I can’t eat!!

  • Beth
    5 years ago

    Thanks…I need to figure out why I have trouble after eating…but…nothing is definitely a trigger every time!! I can eat some dark chocolate today and be fine…tomorrow, I’ll get a migraine!! How can I avoid something if I constantly change??

  • cathyn
    5 years ago

    I feel your pain, Beth. I’m 47, my migraines became chronic about 18 months ago, and I”m sure my hormones are throwing everything out of balance. However, what really triggers me is any change in weather. If it’s clear and sunny out, I pretty much won’t get a migraine. Let a storm/winds/clouds be on the way, and watch out. And where I live, the weather changes constantly.
    I’ve been on an elimination diet, and though it helped me in many ways including discovering a gluten intolerance, it did nothing to alleviate my migraines.
    Kerrie’s right on the money though — I’m a health writer and top doctors have told me the same thing. YOu can have a trigger, but the “door” has to be open for the trigger(S) to affect you. So, for me, on a sunny day, nothing much will bother me. But, if it’s crappy out…it doesn’t take much.
    Great articles Kerrie. I would love to see you address how can you ID food triggers if food isn’t a major trigger? I’ve never had food (even red wine) out and out trigger a migraine, so how do I tell if food is contributing on days the “bucket” is almost full?

  • Beth
    5 years ago

    Thanks Kerrie. I’m still learning. Was finally diagnosed with migraines in August. This past week my Dr put me on some new medication, Imitrex. With his help, I’ve discovered that I’ve probably been having migraines since high school. This sight has been helping me learn a lot. Thanks!!

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    5 years ago

    Beth,

    Unfortunately, with all migraine triggers, whether or not you react depends on what other triggers you have been exposed to. Maybe chocolate is only a problem if you eat it when the weather is changing and you’re having your period, for examples. Triggers are often described as a bucket. You can only put so much in a bucket before it overflows. Everything is fine… until it overflows.

    Similarly, chocolate might be fine as long as you don’t combine with other foods that have share similar naturally occurring chemical properties. For example, chocolate is high in histamine and so are tomatoes, cinnamon and spinach. You may be able to eat one or two things high in histamine in one day, but get a migraine if you eat four foods on the list. That will make more sense after reading future articles in the series. Here’s my article on histamine: http://migraine.com/blog/the-migraine-food-trigger-youve-probably-never-heard-of/, which I’ve discovered is my biggest trigger by far.

    Another possibility is that chocolate may not actually be a trigger, but is a pre-migraine food craving. The migraine process may have started in your brain even though you have no symptoms you’re aware of. One of those unrecognized food symptoms could be a food craving.

    There are lots of variables to juggle, which is the main reason food triggers are so frustrating. I hope to address all these issues in my series.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    5 years ago

    I think it will be really helpful to clear up a lot of the information that is out there on food triggers. When I was originally looking into this, I didn’t get the same answers from different sources, and still feel a bit lost. Luckily food seems to be less of an issue for me. You might consider also addressing eating schedules as triggers (such as skipping meals, sleeping in and missing breakfast, etc).
    Lisa

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