Most migraine sufferers will tell you that comparing a headache with a Migraine Headache is like comparing a candle to a forest fire… or a snowflake with a blizzard.
Fortunately with so much shared research now available, those who do suffer from migraines can benefit from all the wealth of information on the internet and can now identify and avoid those factors (mostly foods) that are known to trigger migraine headaches.
From a basic health standpoint, adhering to a healthy diet is without a doubt the best and most logical way to avoid migraines, but in this hectic day & age, that’s often easier said than done.
Below is a list of the foods (and beverages) that have come up again & again in research as recurring factors in the diets of patients who suffer from migraines.
Further down below the list, we’ve followed the list with a brief analysis of some of the ingredients that are in them…the prime factors in why these foods trigger migraines.
Foods that can cause Migraines…
Tea Dark Beer
Soft Drinks Avocados
Energy Drinks Grapefruit
Chinese Food Oranges
Soft Cheeses Bananas
Hot Dogs Onions
Deli Meats Pastries
Bacon & Ham Desserts
Smoked Fish Candy
Factors that cause Migraines
America’s “pick-me-up”… found in Coffee, Tea, (nearly all) soft drinks, chocolate and the latest fad among the younger generations… Energy Drinks.
So rather than completely eliminate caffeine, try to make an effort to cut back or limit your caffeine consumption… and hopefully you’ll suffer from fewer migraines.
And if you’re a heavy coffee drinker, cutting way back may actually cause you to get a migraine as you go through a period of caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
Mono-Sodium Glutamate (MSG)
Longtime staple and added ingredient used in Chinese Food to “spike” the flavor, MSG is a common ingredient in all kinds of processed foods and especially in Deli meats like cold-cuts, salami & pastrami.
Aside from causing miserable headaches (rating 100 on a scale of 1 through 10), some people have allergic reactions (from mild to wild) with varying symptoms that include hot flashes, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, flushing, skin rash and some people even suffer chest pains.
MSG has such a widely recognized reputation as a migraine trigger, that now many Chinese, Thai, Sushi & Mongolian BBQ restaurants proudly proclaim on their menus and in their advertising that they do NOT use MSG.
So if you’ve got a craving for Chinese or Thai… better check with your waiter first, before ordering, and ask if they use MSG or not.
The All-American Hot Dog… Traditional staple of Baseball Games & outdoor BBQs… and without a doubt among the most common & popular Kid’s meals in the summer; but they’re also packed with an unhealthy dose of Nitrates.
Sodium Nitrate is a chemical preservative commonly found in all kinds of processed foods and cured meats like hot dogs, bacon, ham, smoked fish, corned beef, salami and other deli meats… and believe it or not, it can also be found in some bottled drinking water (? Read those labels!).
Sensitivity to nitrates can vary from one person to another… but it’s a common and well-known fact that the chemicals used as food preservatives are associated with a number of negative health effects… from strokes to heart attacks.
And for you die-hard Hot Dog fans… look for Hebrew National brand hot dogs… they’re 100% beef and have NO Nitrates!
Tyramine is the chemical result of the breakdown of the amino acid Tyrosine, and has been clearly identified as a substance known to cause blood vessels to dilate, which in turn is a leading cause of migraine headaches.
Research published in Neurological Sciences presented data showing that migraine and cluster headaches are characterized by an increase of circulating neurotransmitters and neuromodulators (including Tyramine, among others) in the nervous system.
The list of foods containing high amounts of Tyramine is quite extensive… and it unfortunately includes a lot of very popular foods, including beef and meats (processed meats) that have been smoked, aged or marinated; certain fish (smoked and pickled); poultry; pork, ham and bacon; alcoholic beverages and chocolate.
It’s also quite abundant in most aged & soft cheeses (except for ricotta, cottage cheese and cream cheese); as well as sour cream, yogurt, soy sauce, Teriyaki sauce, tofu, miso soup, sauerkraut, snow peas, bananas, pineapple, eggplant, figs, raspberries, nuts, peanuts, Brazil nuts, avocados and coconuts.
Sugar ~ Pastries, Bakery Goods and Deserts
Desserts… In spite of relishing the pleasure factor of enjoying a piece of cake; slice of pie or some other type of delicious pastry or baked treat… baked foods are notoriously high in fat and sugar content… and may cause you to suffer from migraine headaches.
And in addition to not only helping avoid another migraine, you’ll be far healthier by limiting your consumption of sweets, snacks and desserts with high-fat and sugar content. Your overall health and entire body will benefit from reducing your caloric intake of these fattening foods.
Note that you can cause your blood sugar level to “spike” from a wide variety of foods other than just sweets and pastries! Check out this Glycemic Index chart to learn more about how Carbohydrates elevate your blood sugar (and cause weight gain too!).
It seems like it’s a national pastime… trying to lose weight, yet at the same time, enjoying the flavor of those yummy sweets and desserts; thus the proliferation and wide assortment of synthetic (chemical) Sugar substitutes like Saccharin (banned in 1958; re-approved in 1970) and all the others on the market.
As with any other artificial food additive, chemical or preservative; one’s reaction (headaches?) to these man-made substances will vary from one person to another.
Other Factors known to cause Migraines
To stay healthy (physically & mentally) it’s imperative for anyone who has stress and suffers from migraines to learn some of the many techniques to deal with and cope with stress… because stress can be a killer, literally. Stress is a leading factor in heart attack and stroke victims.
Lack of Sleep
If you suffer from migraines on a regular basis, you probably also suffer from not getting enough sleep. Getting enough rest is essential for good health (again both physically & mentally); and sleep deprivation (sleepless nights or getting only a couple of hours per night) will eventually catch up with you… and very with disastrous results.
Make a point of not eating right before you go to bed… and try to get up and go to bed at the same time. Get your body’s “time clock” into a regular schedule so you can get a good night’s sleep… and this should help reduce your migraines.
In some cases, over-exerting yourself can trigger a migraine. Intense physical exercise and cardiovascular workouts (jogging, running and aerobic workouts) that include repetitive jumping, bending and lifting may actually trigger and cause a migraine headache… especially if you’re not “hydrated” or you’re hungry.
Hunger or Dehydration
Not drinking enough fluids and having low blood sugar levels (or irregular blood sugar fluctuations), are known to be frequent causes of migraine headaches.
Irregular eating times and habits patterns can also result in triggering a migraine; especially if combined with other factors like stress, lack of sleep and overdoing it at the gym in an effort to “exhaust yourself” into getting a good night’s sleep.
Is there anything positive that can be said about smoking? Cigarettes and migraines go hand-in-hand. Get a Nicotine Patch and quit… for good.
This is kind of a Wild Card or “catch-all” category… as this includes all kinds of different things that have been suggested and documented in studies of people who suffer from chronic migraine headaches.
The list of possible factors includes such wide-ranging influences as air pressure… such as changes in cabin pressure during air travel; changes in altitude (elevators in a high-rise to driving through the mountains), to changes in the weather due to approaching storms, extreme temperatures, high winds and changes in humidity.
Strong smells and odors (both pleasant and unpleasant) are also a common trigger for the chronic migraine sufferer. Some people have an allergic reaction to certain perfumes, colognes and fragrances that can trigger a migraine. Others can suffer a migraine from being exposed to automotive exhaust or the smell of secondhand cigarette smoke.
Another frequently mentioned factor is traveling across multiple Time Zones… and suffering from Jet Lag.
Loud Noises & Bright Lights
It’s not uncommon for people prone to migraines to find themselves suffering from one as a result of being exposed to (or startled by) loud noises… such as sirens, equipment or machinery, noisy construction sites or loud amplified music.
Another commonly mentioned trigger for migraines is to suddenly be blinded by a strong glare, or the flashing emergency lights on an ambulance or fire truck; or going outside into bright sunlight after being inside in a semi-dark room. For the chronic sufferer, anything that suddenly jars the senses can set off an attack.
Prescription and OTC (over-the-counter) medications are often cited for causing migraine headaches. Among the ones mentioned most often are the pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen; which often cause an unwanted side effect known as the rebound headache.