Migraines are no joke. They come in all sorts of forms, fashions, and effects. The food that we eat can either be a source of health or a source of disease, and in this case, here are 5 foods that trigger a migraine that you should try to reduce (or eliminate) from your diet.
Migraines are a common, chronic, disorder that is typically diagnosed or characterized by “recurrent disabling attacks of headache and accompanying symptoms”. Often times those individuals who suffer chronic, debilitating migraines, also experience things like depression, epilepsy, stroke, and myocardial infarction as comorbid diseases. [R]
If you experience migraines it is important to understand that the food that you put into your body may positively, or negatively, affect the onset or relief from a migraine attack. While there is limited high-quality randomized controlled trial data on diet patterns or diet-related triggers, if you experience any negative side effects with the following foods, we do recommend eliminating (or limiting) them altogether from your dietary lifestyle. [R]
Alcohol is a big no-no when it comes to putting it in your body if you experience chronic or debilitating migraines. Alcohol, specifically beer and red wine, can trigger a migraine almost immediately, and while your body is trying to process and filter out the alcohol, can often delay the relief from a migraine (meaning it lasts longer than it would without alcohol in the system). In retrospective studies, about one-third of the migraine patients reported alcohol as a migraine trigger, at least occasionally, but only 10% of the migraine patients reported alcohol as a migraine trigger frequently. Regional differences were reported, perhaps depending in part on alcohol habits. [R]
Love depending on caffeine as your go to energy booster? Well if you experience migraines on the reg, you might want to think again. Those who regularly consume caffeine may have an increased risk for physical dependency and consequential withdrawal, which makes caffeine a food that trigger a migraine. If you workout a lot and depend on your caffeine containing pre-workout, this might be a good time to rethink your pre-workout and opt for a non-stim pre-workout instead.
That being said, upon a deeper dive to find the research behind the claim that caffeine is a food that triggers a migraine, we did find that while caffeine has been connected to migraines for many years, its effect on headaches are ambiguous. However, it may be challenging to distinguish between migraine triggers and premonitory symptoms, as drinking coffee or an energy drink before an attack may be due to yawning, diminished energy levels, and sleepiness that may herald a headache. Besides, no provocative studies have been conducted to confirm that caffeine can trigger migraines. On the other hand, caffeine alone or as a drug compound was found to be safe and effective in treating acute migraines. Caffeine may influence migraines through many possible mechanisms, mostly by adenosine receptor antagonism with further vasoconstriction and reduced CBF. Although there is a link between caffeine and migraines, a larger prospective study based on electronic diaries should be performed to assess the connection. [R]
Current literature and studies indicates that high levels of blood lipids and high levels of free fatty acids are some of the most important factors involved in triggering migraine headaches. This means that the more unhealthy you are, the more overweight you are, and the more highly processed and unnecessarily fatty foods that you consume, the worse off you’re going to be.
In one study that aimed to evaluate the impact of dietary fat intake on the severity of migraine headaches, was conducted over a 12-week period on 54 previously diagnosed migraine headache patients. During the first 28 days, the study subjects recorded all food consumption in a diet diary and maintained a headache diary.
At the conclusion of this 28-day baseline period, subjects were individually counseled to limit fat intake to no more than 20 g/day. A 28-day run-in period was allowed for adaptation to the low-fat diet. Results are reported on the final 28-day postintervention period. Subjects significantly decreased the ingestion of dietary fat in grams between baseline (mean 65.9 g/day, p < 0.0001) and the postintervention period (mean 27.8 g/day). The decreased dietary fat intervention was associated with statistically significant decreases in headache frequency, intensity, duration, and medication intake (all p < 0.0001). There was a significant positive correlation between baseline dietary fat intake and headache frequency (r = .44, p = 0.02). This study indicates that a low-fat diet can reduce headache frequency, intensity, and duration and medication intake. [R]
RELATED: What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Look, before we pick on carbohydrates, realize that not all carbs are created equal. When it comes to highly processed foods, most often the food that triggers a migraine comes down to the hydrogenated oil (fat) and the simple sugars in it. These two ingredient components are highly processed, foreign to the body, and can cause inflammation, blood sugar spikes, blood sugar crashes, obesity, unnecessary weight gain, and yep you guessed it, trigger migraines. [R] While yes, there’s limited research to support this idea too, we do recommend cutting back on added sugar (any kind, not just artificial sweeteners) while increasing more anti-inflammatory, real, whole foods into your diet.
Before you cut out all carbs and chalk them up to being the bad guy food that triggers your migraine, expand your knowledge on what are considered ‘good carbs’ and how to increase these in your diet, instead of relying on highly processed foods for your energy source. Think whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and fats packed with omega-3’s.
RELATED: Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs
Nitrates (sodium nitrite—E249, potassium nitrite—E250) and nitrites (sodium nitrate—E251, potassium nitrate—E252) are most often used in food to stabilize processed meat and cheese so that it doesn’t mold and go bad the same day that you get it. [R] Since most our food travels long distances across a lot of time to get to our fridge and our mouths, this food additive has been ground breaking in helping food stability, but also harm to humans through regular, high exposure. Nitrate intake with food is associated with some health risks. When these compounds are consumed, about 60%–70% is easily absorbed and rapidly excreted in urine. In humans, about 3% of nitrate appears in urine as urea and ammonia. [R]
High levels of nitrates and nitrites have bene correlated and classified as foods that trigger a migraine. In individuals who experience migraines, it has been found that higher level of nitric oxide is present in samples collected from the oral cavity. [R] That being said, often foods that contain nitrates and nitrites are highly processed and high fat containing foods, which brings us to the question of, if these nitrate and nitrite containing foods don’t make you feel well, don’t contribute to your overall health or aesthetic, why would you eat them in the first place, migraine trigger or not? [R]
While it is great how many articles and pieces of information are out there in the world and internet about these things, if you experience any type of negative side effect, disease, or chronic disease, the best thing you can do for yourself is to ask questions instead of just blindly following the information out there. Sure, the internet might say that these ‘5 foods that trigger a migraine’ you should stay away from, but what if following a high fat diet for you works better than following a low carb diet, and it makes you feel your best. Should you overrule what your body is telling you, just because ‘the internet says to’? We encourage you, to instead, be a student of your body. Experiment with various foods, ask yourself how they make you feel, and if they make you feel well, eat them, and if they don’t, then don’t eat them. Easy peasy.
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