Food Cravings

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: December 2019

The desire for or craving of certain foods has been linked to migraine disease. Though doctors do not understand why a migraine may cause food cravings it may be helpful to know that this is a fairly common symptom.

What are food cravings?

A food craving is a strong, often intense need or desire for a specific food.1 It can feel uncontrollable, but every person may experience it differently. People often crave foods high in salt, fat, or sugar. In other words, people do not often crave salads!

Some people report general hunger than a craving for specific foods. This is called non-selective hunger. Drinking water may help reduce non-selective cravings.

Why do they occur with migraine?

Doctors believe food cravings may be caused by the part of the brain that is involved in pleasure and reward.1 In some people, there may also be an association between the specific food cravings and nutritional deficiencies.1Hormone imbalances may also play a role.1

In migraine, food cravings are often part of the prodrome phase, or the phase before the head pain tends to start.2 The cravings may accompany other symptoms like fatigue, irritability, yawning, and sensitivity to sound.2

Imaging studies show that many of these symptoms are related to the activity of the hypothalamus, a small part of the brain. The hypothalamus regulates body temperature, hormones, memory, and emotion.2

How are food cravings treated?

A migraine food craving usually surfaces during the prodrome phrase of migraines, which is the first stage of migraine that occurs before the head pain. When a craving happens before the head pain phase, the craving – for chocolate for example – may be mistaken for a migraine trigger. Symptoms considered premonitory or warning of an impending migraine typically occur a few minutes to 3 days before the migraine attack.

During the head pain phase of the migraine, many people no longer have food cravings, but experience nausea with or without vomiting. After the migraine has passed, many people do not want to eat.

There is no specific treatment for food cravings, but if you are aware of how food cravings may predict an oncoming migraine attack, you can take preventative measures for the migraine.

Tracking your symptoms

Keeping a record of your migraine symptoms may help you figure out patterns and triggers to your attacks. It may be helpful to record such things as:

  • When and where your pain or symptoms start
  • Whether the pain spreads to your entire head or neck
  • How well and how quickly acute treatment helps reduce the pain or other symptoms
  • How long your pain or symptoms last
  • Whether you experience other symptoms such as vision changes, nausea, or light sensitivity

Personal experiences advocates often write about their symptoms, including food cravings, and what has worked for them to help manage symptoms. Many in the community have talked about their common food cravings and some have shared their most unusual cravings. One advocate reflects on the powerful role of food as a signal, as prevention, as a trigger, and as comfort. For those with a sweet tooth, this video offers tips for satisfying that craving with naturally sweet foods.

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