Foods That Trigger Headaches
Headaches and migraines are often triggered by certain foods. But not all headache triggers deserve their bad rap.
Theres nothing like a pounding headache to make you seek refuge in a dark, quiet room and hide from the world. If you suffer with chronic headache pain, you have great company. More than 45 million Americans have chronic headache pain from migraine, tension, or cluster headaches.
Women suffer headaches more frequently than men, perhaps because of variations in the brain chemical called serotonin, which plays a role in pain and depression. When levels of the hormone estrogen plummet, levels of serotonin change as well.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common headaches include:
- Cluster headache
- Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia , cluster headache and paroxysmal hemicranias
Whether you suffer with migraines, tension or sinus headaches, or headaches from arthritis or jaw pain, all headaches have one central thread that weaves them together: inner or outer triggers cause the body to react with pain thats felt in the head. These triggers may stem from foods, tobacco, chemicals, stress, environment, or your hormones, among other things, and may vary from one person to the next.
Can Certain Foods Cause Migraines
Migraines are not mere headaches: They are a serious, debilitating condition that affects 1 in 4 U.S. households. Twelve percent of the population suffers from migraines, making it the third most prevalent illness in the world, according to the Migraine Research Foundation.
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This May Be A Sign That You Need To Eat Less Cheese
For those who are lactose intolerant, eating cheese can really wreak havoc in the body. WebMD noted that diarrhea is one of the many gastrointestinal symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. The good news is that some cheeses are quite low in lactose and should be safe to eat for most lactose intolerant people. An article published in the magazine Real Simple highlighted nine of the lowest-lactose cheeses: muenster, Camembert, brie, cheddar, provolone, Gouda, blue, Parmesan, and Swiss.
But, ironically, eating too much cheese can also lead to constipation. If your diet contains so much cheese that it leaves you too full to consume other, more colon-friendly foods, constipation may result, SFGate explained.
The article noted, “If your diet was high in cheese but low in high-fiber plant foods, you might want to blame your constipation on the cheese, but in fact the culprit would be the absence of fiber.” So if you’re going to go crazy on the cheese, make sure you balance out your diet with fiber-rich vegetables and whole grains.
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Tyramine Containing Foods Are Often Cited As Migraine Triggers
If youve done some research on a Migraine diet, youve probably run across tyramine. Tyramine is a byproduct found naturally in some foodsparticularly those that are aged and fermented, like cheese.
Foods produce tyramine when the amino acid, tyrosine, is converted to epinephrine, which is an adrenal gland hormone. The resulting byproduct, tyramine can trigger Migraine attacks in those who are sensitive.
Heres the catch: it doesnt affect everyone equally. Some people are amine-resistant, meaning they have a difficult time breaking down any amine, tyramine included.
Overripe Dried Or Citrus Fruits
Certain fruits can lead to migraines, particularly those that are exceptionally sweet. Dried fruits, citrus juices and overly ripe fruits are amongst these. Examples include figs, raisins, papaya and overripe bananas. Canned fruit stored in sweetened syrup or with added preservatives can also serve as culprits. In general, fresh fruit is best.
- Certain fruits can lead to migraines, particularly those that are exceptionally sweet.
- Canned fruit stored in sweetened syrup or with added preservatives can also serve as culprits.
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How Do I Determine Which Foods And Drinks Are My Headache Triggers
One common suggestion for figuring out your own personal headache triggers is to track the foods and drinks you consume in a daily food headache diary. You may consider yourself to be sensitive to a certain food or drink if you get a headache consistently 20 minutes to 2 hours after eating that certain food.
However, keep in mind that even though it sounds simple to track what you eat to try to figure out what foods and beverages might trigger your headache, its not this simple.
Problems with food headache trackers
Is it truly the food or drink that is causing your headache or is it one of the many ingredients or chemicals in these foods? Foods consist of many ingredients that contain many chemicals. Chemicals include nitrates/nitrites, phenylethylamine, sulfites, tannins, tyramine, salicylates, aspartate, added sugar, alcohol, caffeine, gluten, glutamate and capsaicin to name a few.
Even beyond consumed foods, drinks and ingredients/chemicals are other factors that must be considered that may complicate identifying the true trigger of your headache. These factors include:
How To Tell If A Certain Food Is Triggering A Migraine
Its important to note that a great range of factors can set off migraines, and what youre eating or drinking may not always be the culprit. Often recommended for migraine management is keeping a migraine diary to track what may be setting off attacks. This means recording:
- When attacks are happening
- Your levels of stress
- Exposure to bright lighting, screens, or other stimuli
If you suspect a particular food and drink is triggering your migraines, consider that other factors, such as dehydration, stress, hormonal changes, and sleep disruptions, can always be factors. So how can you tell? Heres a breakdown:
- Track the timing: Drinks or foods are considered triggers when they set off an attack within 12 to 24 hours of consumption. The onset of attack can be as quick as 20 minutes.
- Elimination: If you suspect a food item to be a trigger, avoid it for four weeks and see how your migraines are. If theres no change, then likely it isnt one.
- A focused approach: Be careful when eliminating foods or drinks from your diet it actually may be worse to avoid all of your triggers at the same time. Try one at a time and go from there.
- Special considerations: The elimination of foods from the diet should not be attempted in children or if youre pregnant without professional medical advice.
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When To Seek Professional Help
Even if youve had migraines before, certain cases prompt emergency help. Seek immediate medical attention if:
- The headache hurts worse than any youve had before.
- The attack causes difficulty talking, coordinating movements, and/or visual disturbances.
- You lose your balance.
- The headache sets on rapidly.
As you live with migraines and manage them, and especially if youre taking medications, you should call your doctor in the following cases:
- Theres a change in the pattern of your attacks your headaches are getting worse.
- Your medications are no longer effective in preventing or managing migraines.
- The side effects of your medications are debilitating.
- You are taking pain medications three or more times a week.
- The headaches get much worse when you are leaning over or lying down.
Ditching Foods That Trigger Migraines
If youre suspicious that certain foods are triggers, eliminate one food at a time, says Dr. Wilhour.
Avoid the food for four weeks and see if you notice a difference. Having fewer migraines? Continue to avoid that food if its not too difficult to do so. Notice no difference? Reintroduce that food and move on to another.
Keep in mind that you may not be dealing with a single trigger. Instead, several triggers may be working together.
I know that if I go to a ballpark on a hot day and eat a hot dog and drink a beer, that would be a headache day for me, Dr. Diamond says.
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Your High Cholesterol May Or May Not Be The Result Of Your Love Affair With Cheese
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , 29 million Americans have total cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL. The CDC noted that high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
The American Heart Association has linked the saturated fat in cheese and other dairy products to increased low-density lipoprotein , or “bad” cholesterol, and thus, heart disease. The AHA recommends that saturated fat should make up no more than 5 or 6 percent of your daily calories.
However, not all experts agree. One 2015 study published in Food and Nutrition Research found that “cholesterol levels did not increase after high intake of 27% fat Gouda-type cheese over 8 weeks’ intervention.” A meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2016 concluded that “dairy fat intake was not significantly related to risk of total CVD ,” although they did note that replacing the fat in dairy products with polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils decreased cholesterol levels.
Avoid Foods That Trigger Migraines Containing Soy Sauce And Msg
Monosodium glutamate , which is found in soy sauce and as a food additive in many other foods, has been found to cause cramps, diarrhea, and a horrible headache in 10 to 15 percent of people who get migraine headaches. “Soy sauce as a migraine trigger is probably due to MSG, but soy sauce is also very salty, which can lead to dehydration, another possible headache trigger,” notes Rosen.
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Foods That Can Trigger Headaches
There is nothing more annoying than a pounding or throbbing headache. Although common, headaches can disrupt your sleep or productivity.
According to the World Health Organization, almost half of the adult population have experienced a headache at least once within the last year.
If you are suffering from frequent headaches but are unsure whats causing them, it may be the foods you are eating. Certain foods trigger headaches due to the chemicals and ingredients in the foods such as tyramine and histamine. Foods that give you headaches range from chocolate and alcohol to citrus fruits and aged cheese.
Not all headaches are triggered by foods but if your headaches are, it is important to know your triggers and how to avoid them.
Here are 10 foods that can trigger headaches according to the National Headache Foundation:
10 Foods That Trigger Headaches
1. Excess Caffeine
Some of the most common reasons people experience headaches are drinking excess caffeine and caffeine withdrawals. Although a healthy amount of caffeine can treat oncoming migraines, too much caffeine can trigger a headache according to the American Migraine Foundation.
Studies show that two chemicals, tyramine, and histamine, which are found in alcohol, especially red wine, trigger headaches and migraines. According to the American Migraine Foundation, about 1/3 of migraine sufferers reported alcohol to be a trigger for their occasional migraines.
3. Milk chocolate
4. Citrus fruits
Individuals With Known Histamine Intolerance
Histamine is a naturally occulting chemical that is produced in your body to serve several functions, such as:
- Transmission of messages to and from your brain
- Aid in digestion by releasing enzymes and acid in stomach
- Mediate an immune or allergic response after trauma or allergen exposure
Besides internal production, a number of foods are also in rich in histamine.
Data indicates that about 1% of the general population suffers from a condition known as histamine intolerance a medical condition marked by excessive histamine levels in the body.
These individuals are genetically susceptible to develop serious reaction due to increased histamine sensitivity of the tissues.
Inadequate metabolism or excessive intake of histamine as a result of ingestion of certain foods can present with a variety of symptoms such as:
- digestive issues
- Gouda, 1.3-2.4
- Camembert, 0.44.2
The quantity of histamine is much higher in provolone as provolone is a fermented cheese. If you have histamine intolerance, you should avoid provolone cheese.
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Tyramine Is Hiding In Some Of Your Favorite Foods This Naturally Occurring Compound Is A Migraine Trigger For Some Get The Full Scoop
Migraine triggers can vary widely between individuals. And in some people, particular foods and drinks can trigger a migraine. Tyramine, a naturally produced compound found in protein-containing foods, is one of these potential triggers. 1 2 Lets dig in on how tyramine works and learn why it may be a dietary migraine trigger for some.
Should You Be Worried About Breast Cancer If You Eat A Lot Of Cheese
Roughly one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in her life. It’s the second-most diagnosed cancer and, because it’s so common, researchers have worked hard to try to determine which factors may increase or decrease a person’s chances of having breast cancer. In the case of cheese and other dairy products, however, the evidence is conflicting.
For example, an older study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute analyzed the eating habits of nearly 3,000 French women and concluded that “the risk of breast cancer was found to be positively associated with frequency of cheese consumption and the level of fat in the milk consumed.” But another study, published in the journal Cancer Research some three years later, came to a different conclusion. The researchers focused on fermented dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk, and cheese and found that “a statistically significant decrease in breast cancer risk was also observed for increasing intake of Gouda cheese.”
Interestingly, a 2020 study revealed that “higher intake of dairy milk were associated with greater risk of breast cancer” whereas “no important associations were noted with cheese and yogurt.”
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Foods That Trigger Ocular Migraines
Ocular migraines are migraines that affect vision. An ocular migraine generally starts as a blind spot in one’s peripheral vision that increases over time. Although triggers and causes of migraines vary, certain foods have been shown to trigger or worsen migraines more than others. Health care professionals at Loyola University of Medicine suggest keeping a food diary that tracks food consumption and onset of the migraines, as well as avoiding particular foods.
Does Food Really Trigger Migraines
Of course, the relationship between food and migraine isnât clear-cut, and unfortunately, no single factor can be directly tied to your attacks. That said, there’s scientific evidence that suggests migraines may be triggered by certain foods. Additionally, 27% of those who experience migraines believe that particular foods are personally triggering.
According to Dr. Sara Crystal, clinical neurologist and Cove Medical Director, certain foods and additives are more likely to trigger headaches in a higher percentage of migraineurs, but even among individuals, other factors like stress, hormonal changes, and lack of sleep can increase the likelihood of an attack after consuming a known trigger.
So, without further ado, hereâs a list of the most common food triggers for migraine sufferers, in no particular order.
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Foods That May Help With Migraines
Unfortunately, there is no single migraine diet, or list of foods you can eat that will treat or reduce a headache. There isnt much research on the benefit of dietary restrictions and migraine triggers, Dr. Wilhour says.
One review of 43 studies, published in the journal Headache in 2020, looked at a variety of diets in relation to migraine attacks. It found that most of the diets lowered the frequency of headaches.
But the researchers wrote that the research on a whole was not high quality and there wasnt enough strong evidence to suggest any of the eating patterns were effective.
What I find more important is eating regular meals, maintaining good hydration, and consuming caffeine in moderation, Dr. Diamond says.
Its natural to want to find the one thing that triggers your headaches, but she notes migraines are more complicated than that.
Finally, if you have chronic migraine, which is a migraine more than half of the days in the month, you should talk to your doctor about going on a preventative medication to control migraines.
One goal is to be around some of your triggers so that you can tolerate them without inciting a migraine, Dr. Wilhour says.
For instance, maybe you can have a glass of red wine with your friends one night a month. Being able to enjoy yourself is one of the main goals of treatment.
You Could Become Dehydrated
Yes, not drinking enough water can easily lead to dehydrationbut so can eating foods high in sodium, like creamy casseroles and double-decker cheeseburgers.
“Cheese is a food that’s higher in sodium,” says Gorin, ” this can add up quickly, especially if you eat more than one slice at a time.”
Signs that your eating habits are making you dehydrated include headache and decreased urination, so make sure you’re intentionally hydrating before or after sodium-rich meals to avoid drying out.
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How To Identify Your Headache Triggers
It can be helpful to keep a headache diary. This is a simple listing of:
- When your headache developed
- The intensity of the headache
- What helped, if anything
If you’re not sure if a food is triggering your headaches, try limiting your intake of that food for 4 weeks. Then, notice if your headaches improve or not, using your diary to track your headaches.
If there is no change after 4 weeks, then it’s possible that food is not a headache trigger. It’s also still possible it is a trigger, but something else is also a trigger.
Experts do not recommend trying to restrict your diet if you are pregnant. They also do not recommend trying this method for children or teens.